Marine general: US advisors should embed with Iraqi forces

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Marine Gen. John Kelly, a four-star general who served three Iraq War tours, said Friday he believes U.S. troops should be allowed to advise Iraqi forces in the field as they fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).  

When asked during a Pentagon press briefing whether it made sense to have U.S. advisers accompany Iraqi forces into battle, Kelly said, "Yes. There's only one way for advisors to advise." 

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"If we want the Iraqis to get good enough to fight this fight, I believe that we have to reinforce them in terms of not only the equipment, but as well as advisory capability, that kind of thing," said Kelly, who is retiring this month. 

The administration so far has not allowed U.S. forces to advise Iraqi forces while in battle.

Currently, U.S. advisers and joint terminal attack controllers (JTACs) — forces who call in airstrikes — must remain at a headquarters building and provide guidance from there, at a division level. U.S. forces are allowed to advise at a brigade level with Kurdish peshmerga in northern Iraq. 

The U.S. had offered Apache attack helicopters, as well as embedded advisors to assist in the fight to retake Ramadi from ISIS, but the Iraqi government did not request them. 

The U.S. has also allowed forces to partner with Kurdish peshmerga, such as a hostage rescue mission in October where one Delta commando was killed, and conduct unilateral raids into Syria. 

Kelly said even though two Iraqi divisions the U.S.-led coalition organized, trained and equipped in Anbar Province in 2007 became the best in the country and could operate on their own, they still needed advisors with them. 

"We always had advisers with them," he said. "This war stuff is hard. It's not for the untrained or the unadvised. ... The equipment is important but it doesn't come close to having people that are just with them, and over time, less and less involvement." 

As far as whether pulling out all U.S. forces from Iraqi in December 2011 was a mistake, Kelly said, "There were other ways to have done it at much smaller numbers than we had there certainly at the height of the war."