WASHINGTON, June 18, 2015 – Time and regional partners are required for long-term success in defeating the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant terrorist organization, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told the House Armed Services Committee Wednesday.
The always-dangerous Middle East has become even more unpredictable, unstable and complex, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey said, testifying alongside Defense Secretary Ash Carter at a hearing on U.S. policy in the region.
U.S. goals against ISIL are straightforward, the chairman said. “We seek a region that is inhospitable to our enemies and that promotes and protects our core national interests,” he told the panel.
The U.S. military’s campaign is in support of a 60-nation coalition and the Iraqi government, Dempsey noted. “We are on path to deliver that which we’ve committed to delivering, which is security forces -- not just the [Iraqi security forces], but also the peshmerga and now the Sunni tribes -- we are on path to deliver to them the capability to confront ISIL inside of their sovereign territory,” he said.
The U.S. military could take on ISIL directly and the current threat would be eliminated, the chairman acknowledged, but he added that over the long term, the threat would endure.
“It’s my military judgment that an enduring victory over ISIL can only be accomplished by those nations and stakeholders in the region who have as much and actually more to gain or lose than we do,” he said.
The situation on the ground in Iraq and Syria is the result of three converging issues, Dempsey told the panel. The first, he said, is that “several governments are struggling for political legitimacy, because they are not sufficiently pluralistic or they are not sufficiently accountable to their citizens.” The Iraqi government has pledged to create a unity government, he added, but has been unable to do so yet.
“Second, the centuries old Shia-Sunni rivalry has come to the fore,” the chairman said. “Weak states are less able to assert independence amid the tug-of-war between sectarian regional powers.”
Third, there is increasing competition among religiously moderate Muslims and more radical elements, Dempsey said.
“These three challenges, as they intersect, make for an environment that will test the resolve of the region’s security forces,” the general said. “Enduring stability cannot be imposed from the outside in. Stability must be cultivated from the inside out and, importantly, owned by regional stakeholders.”
Countering these issues will take time, Dempsey said, and the people of the region must change their political culture to succeed. Long-term success must come from the people, he added, because much of the appeal of extremist groups would evaporate if government is seen as representing all aspects of a country fairly.
Given this, the general said, “the role the United States military is taking against a transregional threat of ISIL represents, in my judgment, an appropriate level of effort.”
Dempsey stressed that the military is only one component of a much broader strategy against ISIL. “Military power alone will not solve this,” he said.
The U.S. military has responsibility for just two of what are a total of nine lines of effort, he noted: bombing ISIL targets in support of indigenous ground forces and training and equipping Iraqi security forces.
“The nine lines of effort should be considered in the aggregate,” Dempsey said. “This campaign focuses on building partners who are taking responsibility for their own security. As I've said before, this is an Iraq-first strategy, enabled by the coalition, but not an Iraq-only one. And, again, certainly not a military-only one.”
The chairman stressed the need for patience several times in his testimony. He said the U.S. military is at the beginning “of a complex, nonlinear campaign that will require a sustained level of effort over an extended period of time to promote durable regional stability over the long term.”