NAPLES, Italy, June 11, 2015 – The addition of up to 450 troops and the opening of a training base in Taqaddam, Iraq, is an adjustment to the campaign, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said here today.
The adjustment fits in with the strategy to enable Iraqi forces to take the fight to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, said Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, who arrived here after visiting Israel.
“The military campaign is based around training and equipping,” the general said. “That’s the centerpiece, with kinetic strikes from the air being an enabler for the Iraqi force.”
The base will expand the footprint in Anbar province and allow American trainers to work with the Iraqi army’s 8th Division. It also will allow Americans to train and supply Sunni tribes that want to fight against ISIL.
“It’s an adjustment that is significant, in that it gives us access to another Iraqi division and extends their reach into al Anbar province and gives us access to more tribes,” the chairman said to reporters traveling with him.
Finally, it will place American planners in the Iraqi-run Anbar Operations Center.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi requested the new capability in the province.
There is no timetable for any offensive in the province, Dempsey said, but the base at Taqaddam and the support to the tribes will be an enabler for the counterattack to reclaim Ramadi.
If successful, the base could be a model for further efforts in the country, the general said, likening it to a lily pad in a pond, with the base at the center and the lily pad being the range of security extending out.
“Our campaign is built on establishing these ‘lily pads’ that allow us to encourage the Iraqi security forces forward,” the chairman said. “As they go forward, they may exceed the reach of the particular lily pad. We’re looking all the time to see if additional sites might be necessary.”
Dempsey said that although he doesn’t anticipate the need for another base in Anbar, “I could foresee one in the corridor that runs from Baghdad to Tikrit to Kirkuk over into Mosul.”
The main effort in the country must come from Iraqi security forces, the general said. Local tribes will help to “thicken” the lines against ISIL and will help to govern areas liberated from the terror group.
This will take time, Dempsey said. “This campaign is building partners who are taking responsibility for their own security -- enabled by us,” he added, “not us driving the Iraqi government at a pace they can’t sustain.”
This also fits in well with the American strategy, the chairman told reporters. If U.S. forces were to be used against ISIL, he explained, the battle would probably be over quickly. But the underlying problems that cause such extremist groups to flourish would remain, and troops would be needed again later to battle a different set of terrorists, the general said.
Part of the requirement is that the Iraqi government must have a plan to reconstruct the liberated areas. “If they don’t, ISIL can be swept aside, but the underlying issues that allow them to swim freely in this population will remain,” Dempsey said. “This needs to be their counterattack, their campaign. As we advise them, we will urge them to move at a pace that they can sustain.”
Establishing the base also will take time, Dempsey said. U.S. service members will probably deploy there from troops already in Kuwait, he said, and they must establish the command and control architecture, the force protection system and the intelligence structure.
The Sunni tribes in the region are battle-tested and hardened “and they may be ready sooner rather than later,” the chairman said, and he emphasized that much depends on the Iraqi government.
“We haven’t given up on the idea that [the Iraqis] can achieve a national unity government,” he said. “They can pass legislation that allows a path to reconciliation, change de-Baathification, [and can devise a] different model for sharing oil revenues [and] a National Guard law.”
The base in Anbar is not a game-changer, Dempsey said. “The game changers will have to come from the Iraqi government itself,” he said.