Dempsey says fight against ISIS ‘starting to turn’
During a an unannounced visit to Iraq, the most senior U.S. military officer told American troops in Baghdad that the battle with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group was “starting to turn.”
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey told the troops the U.S. military had helped Iraqi and Kurdish forces “pull Iraq back from the precipice,” Reuters news agency reported.
“And now, I think it’s starting to turn. So well done,” he told a group of Marines at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.
Dempsey landed in Iraq for the first time since President Barack Obama authorized an array of responses to an offensive launched by ISIS this summer, which he said would take several yearts to “drawn-out.”
Obama last week authorized roughly doubling the number of American ground forces as the military expands the reach of its advisers after slowing the militants’ advances with U.S. airstrikes.
Earlier on Saturday, an Iraqi army colonel said security forces were close retaking the country’s biggest refinery at Baiji, which has been under siege for months by ISIS militants.
Dempsey said it was important to belittle the group, explaining it had been crucial to show ISIS was not an unstoppable, 10-foot-tall force but a “bunch of midgets running around with a really radical ideology.”
Dempsey repeatedly made the point that military force could not root out ISIS unless Iraq’s government manages to work across the Sunni-Shiite divide.
Building trust would take time. So would the U.S. mission, he said.
“How long? Several years,” said Dempsey.
Dempsey, who also met top Iraqi officials, told Reuters he wanted to find out whether the Iraqis believed they could win recruits for a program the United States hopes to get under way next year to re-train Iraqi units.
“I want to get a sense from them on whether they believe our timeline is feasible,” Dempsey said.
About 1,400 U.S. troops are now in Iraq. Obama’s new authorization allows for deployment of up to 3,100.