BRUSSELS, May 21, 2015 - Iraqi security forces weren't "driven from" Ramadi, they "drove out of Ramadi," the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said here Wednesday.
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, attending a meeting of NATO defense chiefs here, told reporters traveling with him that he has said from the start that the mission against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant would take years to accomplish.
"At the start I said three years," he said. "That still might be the case, we may be able to achieve our objectives in three years. But I said then, and I reiterate now, that there may be tactical exchanges - some of which go the way of Iraqi security forces and others which go the way of ISIL. But the coalition has all the strategic advantages over time."
Time will tell, the general said, and time is also a factor because the key to victory is not just military success on the battlefield, but the ability of the Iraqi government to draw the various groups in the country back together.
U.S. commanders in Iraq are working with their Iraqi counterparts to work out exactly what happened, Dempsey said. Reports indicate that Iraqi security forces drove out of Ramadi - an important provincial capital - during a sandstorm May 16.
"This group of [Iraqi security forces] had been forward-deployed in al Anbar [province] - arguably the most dangerous part of Iraq," he said. "They believed they were less well-supported. The tribes had begun to come together, but had not ... allied themselves with the [security forces]."
The sandstorm precluded U.S. air support against ISIL, and the Iraqi commander on the ground made "what appears to be a unilateral decision to move to what he perceived to be a more defensible position," the general said.
Success against ISIL requires the commitment of the Iraqi government, the Iraqi security forces and the Iraqi people, he said.
There must be political reconciliation among the various actors, a plan for the reconstruction of those areas that have been affected by ISIL attacks and the promise of "governance that gives the people the belief that they will be cared for in the future," Dempsey explained.
From the start of the campaign against ISIL, the United States has been clear that support is conditional on Iraq's government accomplishing these goals, the general said. "They have to happen, and if they don't happen, then this campaign won't succeed," he said. "That's been clear from the start."
The anti-ISIL coalition is working to coalesce the Sunni tribes in Anbar against ISIL. The coalition will give the tribes some training and equipment, "but all that necessarily needs to flow through the government of Iraq," the chairman said. "The coalition will only support those groups that subordinate themselves to the government."