Dempsey: Iraqi army 'probably' can't retake ISIS territory on its own

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey on Thursday said Iraqi government forces would "probably not" be able to recapture territory lost to a militant Sunni insurgency, but they are “capable of defending Baghdad."

U.S. assessment teams inside the country have shown Iraqi security forces are bracing for an attack on the capital but remain too “logistically challenged” to go on the offensive, Dempsey told reporters during a Pentagon press conference.

ADVERTISEMENT
Dempsey said local forces by themselves would likely prove incapable of reclaiming territory seized by the extremist group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), but he ruled out U.S. involvement for the time being.

"If you’re asking me, 'will the Iraqis at some point be able to go on the offensive to recapture the part of Iraq that they’ve lost?' I think that’s a really broad campaign-quality question. Probably not by themselves," he said. "Doesn’t mean we would have to provide kinetic support, but suggesting that’s the direction this is headed."

The general’s comments came days after President Obama announced he would deploy an additional 200 troops to Iraq to counter the insurgent group. There are now a total of roughly 750 U.S. forces in Iraq.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that 200 of the initial 300 military advisers the president approved last month are in the country and that a joint operations center has been established in Baghdad, with Iraqis working alongside Americans.

A second operations center in the city of Irbil has achieved “initial operating capability,” he announced.

Hagel stressed that none of the recently arrived six assessment teams would be involved in combat.

“None will perform combat missions,” he told reporters Thursday.

Dempsey dismissed concerns that the Pentagon was guilty of “mission creep” by sending additional contingents of soldiers to Iraq.

“That’s the wrong phrase. It should be mission match,” he said, adding that the U.S. approach to the deteriorating situation could change after further assessments of ISIS and Iraqi security forces begin pouring in.

Dempsey said airstrikes remain an option.

“We have a much better intelligence picture than two weeks ago and it continues to get better,” he said.

Dempsey said Iraqi security forces did not run away from a few thousand members of ISIS because the group had a military advantage. Rather troops “collapsed in the face of a future that didn’t hold out any hope for them” because of the poor governance out of Baghdad, he said.