ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT —
People who say U.S. troop increases in Iraq are a “band-aid approach” or an incremental effort are missing the point, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today.
The U.S. troops going to Iraq are going in the correct numbers and at the right time to best serve the mission, Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford said, speaking with reporters who traveled with him to yesterday’s NATO Military Committee meeting.
Dunford has said since taking office in October that he would continue to look for ways to accelerate success and bolster Iraqi actions to counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. American troops or capabilities would be used to reinforce Iraqi success, he said, “and we were looking for places to put in capabilities to accelerate Iraqi progress.”
“The Iraqis are making more progress, [and] we need more in capability to accelerate the progress they are now making,” the chairman added.
An example, he said, is air support. In November and December, the number of sorties in Iraq was low, he noted.
“When did we provide more air support?” Dunford asked. “When the Iraqis conducted more operations.” Operations to take Ramadi meant more airstrikes, and that has continued as the Iraqis moved up the valley into Hit, he explained.
Dunford and Defense Secretary Ash Carter regularly speak to President Barack Obama about the situation in Iraq and ways they can accelerate success, the general said. “We are going to continue to do that,” he added. “President Obama has not said no to any request [for Iraq] we have made to him.”
How the Iraqis generate and deploy forces is very much up to Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, and that also plays into the U.S. footprint in Iraq, the general said.
ISIL Terror Attacks
ISIL has launched a number of terror attacks into Baghdad over the past days, killing and wounding hundreds of innocent Iraqis. ISIL controls the city of Fallujah, about 40 miles from Baghdad.
Iraqi forces need to contain ISIL in Fallujah, while at the same time conducting operations up the Euphrates River Valley and conducting shaping operations against Mosul, the largest city still under ISIL control, the chairman told reporters. “The assessment of the guys on the ground is that the Iraqis can do both: isolate Fallujah and set the stage for operations against Islamic State in Mosul,” Dunford said.
Iraq has more trained units now, he said, and as more receive training, they will receive American advisors to help them as they conduct operations.
“The reason why we are increasing our footprint in Iraq is because we are going toward Mosul,” Dunford said. “We had a footprint that was sized for operations in Anbar province.”
Now, some 217 more American service members are deploying to Iraq. “We don’t want them there too late, and we don’t want them there too early,” the chairman said. “We want to get them there when it makes to most sense.”