By Jim Garamone
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, Nov. 13, 2014 – The campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is just entering its fourth month, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff urged Congress and the American people to develop the strategic patience needed to see the effort through.
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel testified before the House Armed Service Committee this morning on the progress of the campaign. Dempsey stressed the effort against ISIL is “Iraq first,” not “Iraq only.”
“Broadly, our strategy is to reinforce a credible partner in the Iraqi government and assist regional stakeholders to address the 20 million disenfranchised Sunnis who live between Damascus and Baghdad,” Dempsey told the committee. “They have to reject ISIL’s radical ideology from within.”
The campaign calls on Iraqis and the anti-ISIL coalition to squeeze the extremists from multiple directions, Dempsey said. The coalition must take on ISIL inside Iraq. It must deny the group safe haven inside Syria. “We need to take a long view,” the chairman said.
Many lines of effort must proceed apace including “counter-financing, counter-foreign fighter flow, counter-messaging, humanitarian aid, economic progress, the air campaign, restoring an offensive capability within the Iraqi Security Forces, and a ground campaign managed by the Iraqi Security Forces from the south and the Peshmerga from the north, with contribution from the tribes in particular in al-Anbar and Nineveh,” he said.
And the Iraqis and coalition must be flexible. The chairman said he would recommend to President Barack Obama to use American ground forces if the situation warrants it -- a situation he does not foresee now.
When pressed about this Dempsey said there are certain operations that could be more complex than the ones in which the Iraqi security forces are currently involved, that might require U.S. forces on the ground with Iraqi troops.
Iraqi Forces ‘Doing a Better Job’
Iraqi forces are “doing a better job, and soon I think we will be able to describe it as a good job in al Anbar and moving north out of Baghdad and the [Kurdish Peshmerga] moving south,” the chairman said.
But there are some places along these lines of operation with “fairly complex terrain,” including Mosul and the effort to restore the border between Iraq and Syria, he said.
“I’m not predicting at this point that those forces in Mosul and along the border would need to be accompanied by U.S. forces, but we’re certainly considering it,” the chairman said.
Dempsey said there are two strategies involved in defeating ISIL. The first is for the United States to “take ownership” of the fight and then gradually transition responsibility to Iraqi and Peshmerga forces. The second is from the beginning to enable Iraqi and Kurdish forces and then hold them accountable for results, he said.
‘Modest’ U.S. Footprint in Iraq
The president has ordered the second choice. “So we’ve established a modest footprint,” Dempsey said. U.S. forces in Iraq are focused on the development of security forces, assisting those forces with planning and integration of fires along with advising and assisting them from higher headquarters.
“Any expansion of that I’d think would be equally modest,” he said. “I just don’t see it in our interest to take this fight on ourselves with a large military contingent.”
There could be exceptions and these could happen if the basic assumptions the United States uses prove wrong. One of the assumptions is the government of Iraq will be inclusive; another is that the ISF will be willing to take back Anbar province and Ninewah province. “If those assumptions are rendered invalid, I will have to adjust my recommendations,” Dempsey said.
Coalition Partners Agree on Strategy
Coalition partners agree with this strategy, the chairman said. “There’s a strong commitment to work together closely in this complex and long-term undertaking,” he said.
“Progress will be uneven at times,” the chairman added. “But with strategic patience, the trend lines favor the coalition over the long term.”
Dempsey called on Congress to do its part. Under the constitution, Congress has the duty to “raise and support” the military.
“Our commitments across the globe -- as you know -- are up. Resources are down,” he said. “And to add to that, sequestration is only months away.
“Every day that we don’t have budget certainty and flexibility means more time and money to regain readiness,” he continued. “And, over time, I will have fewer military options to offer.”