Top Army general: Ground troops needed to defeat ISIS militants

The Army’s top general on Wednesday said the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) could only be defeated by ground forces.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno said airstrikes targeting ISIS had halted the group’s advance but would not be enough, The New York Times reported. 

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“You’ve got to have ground forces that are capable of going in and rooting them out,” said Odierno, who served as commanding general of U.S. and coalition forces during the Iraq War.

The Army later provided a statement saying that Odierno was referring to the need for capable Iraqi forces inside Iraq.

"The body of the NY Times story is accurate with General Odierno's comments, however their headline is disappointing and misleading. General Odierno was referring to the Iraqi Ground Forces," said Army spokeswoman Lt. Col. Alayne Conway.

Odierno’s comments come a day after Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey told lawmakers that combat troops could fight against ISIS, sparking speculation that President Obama could order ground forces into Iraq.

The White House quickly pushed back against Dempsey’s comments, which came as lawmakers weighed a resolution to authorize training and weapons for moderate Syrian rebel groups.

President Obama has asked for the authority as part of his plan to hit ISIS with airstrikes and train local partners to carry the fight. The resolution has sparked concerns from both Republicans and Democrats that the U.S. could gradually find itself entangled in a new Middle East war, fears fueled by Dempsey’s comments.

Some lawmakers and former defense officials have also suggested that ground forces might be needed to direct airstrikes

White House press secretary Josh Earnest, though, said Dempsey was only "referring to a hypothetical scenario,” where “he might make a tactical recommendation to the president as it relates to ... the use of ground troops."

The U.S. already has 1,600 military advisers in Iraq, but the president has pledged that combat forces will not be deployed to the country.

Odierno also said ISIS cannot be allowed to have a safe haven in Syria, where Obama might target the group with airstrikes. 

The general also called the current situation in Iraq “very disappointing,” and blamed former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for the security meltdown. Odierno said al-Maliki’s security forces were ineffective and sectarian. Reports said many Iraqi units turned and fled from ISIS as the group advanced toward Baghdad.

Odierno also suggested that the situation in Iraq might have been better if the two countries had reached an agreement to allow some American forces to remain past 2011.

“If we were there, maybe we would not have seen the breakdown of the government,” he said.

“I think we would have been able to keep a closer eye on what was going on."

This post was updated at 8:53 p.m.