Army chief: More ground troops headed to Iraq

Army chief of staff Gen. Raymond Odierno said Friday that more U.S. ground troops would likely deploy to Iraq to train local forces fighting Islamic militants.

“We are going to increase a little bit,” he said. “As we do that, I think we have to do an assessment of how well that’s going.” 

{mosads}Odierno did not say how many additional troops would be needed. 

There are currently more than 1,600 U.S. troops in Iraq, providing security to U.S. diplomatic personnel and property and advising local forces. 

President Obama has repeatedly ruled out sending U.S. troops to a combat mission in Iraq, insisting that the force is only there to train and advise.

But top military leaders in recent days have said they could recommend U.S. ground troops accompany Iraqi forces on the front lines, to help direct airstrikes, for example.

Odierno said Friday that he would not rule out having U.S. special forces embedded with Iraqi units as they target members of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

“I don’t rule anything out. I don’t ever rule anything out personally. But I think the way we’re going about it is the right way,” he said about training Iraqi forces to spearhead the fight against ISIS.

“I think we’re going to have to see. I think that again, when you do targeting, our concern obviously is civilian casualties. So when you target, you want to make sure you are targeting the right people,” he continued. 

“The worst thing that could happen for us is if we start killing innocent Iraqis, innocent civilians, so we have to be very careful and precise when we’re doing that.”

Odierno has previously said that airstrikes alone would not be enough to defeat ISIS. He said Friday that airstrikes would become more difficult to conduct as the terror group adapted to U.S. tactics.

“To be honest with you, the targets that we’ve gone after have been targets that are very clearly identifiable — they have military equipment, they’ve been out in the open, they are going to start infiltrating back into the population, and that’s when it’s going to become more difficult,” he said. 

“That’s why I believe you have to have the ground forces, the Iraqi ground forces trained in order to go in there, because it’s going to be over time, it’s going to be more difficult to do airstrikes.”

He said other nations would be welcomed to contribute ground forces. 

Odierno also shared details on what targets the U.S. might hit in Syria.

“We will continue to work and target those areas that we believe are clearly military ISIL support areas, and those that are training camps and other things that are there to building more fighters that are having an impact not only in Iraq but improving ISIL’s capability,” he said, using an alternate name for the group.

“And I think we’ll do that, and if we have to, we’ll do it unilaterally,” he added.

He said “tremendous targets” would include Humvees, armored military vehicles, and heavy weapons such as Howitzers.

“Those are very difficult to hide in the middle of the desert,” he said.

This story was updated at 1:17 p.m.

Tags Army Department of Defenese Iraq ISIS Islamic State in Iraq and Syria Raymond Odierno Syria
See all Hill.TV See all Video