WASHINGTON, July 8, 2015 – In the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, there are risks in exercising patience or in taking action, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told the Senate Armed Services Committee, and it is his job to assess those risks and provide the best military advice to U.S. civilian leaders.
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey and Defense Secretary Ash Carter testified Tuesday before the committee on the anti-ISIL strategy, and the question arose as to whether the strategy of training Iraqi and Syrian forces to fight the terrorist group isn’t risky.
Some critics of the policy want American forces to take on the extremist group. Others want American observers and tactical air controllers embedded into Iraqi units.
The strategy of training others to fight requires patience, though, Dempsey said.
“I think patience probably does increase risk to the mission somewhat because it extends the time when other things could happen, right?”
Dempsey said. “But I think were we to take more responsibility directly and unilaterally, that would certainly increase risk in another way. It increases risk to our force and increases risk to the other missions that we’re held accountable to accomplish globally.”
The chairman said he gets paid to give advice to civilian leaders on managing risk. And in Iraq, he said, patience wins.
Dempsey said managing risk globally requires a balance between patience and action. “What you have to be assured of is that as we manage risk, we look at those things which could threaten U.S. persons and facilities around the globe and the homeland,” he said. “Where we see risk accruing that could … threaten that national security interest, there’s no hesitance for us to act unilaterally and decisively.”
In other words, were ISIL to threaten an attack on the United States, U.S. installations or U.S. citizens overseas or vital American interests, the U.S. military would act.
But the strategy in Iraq is to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL. The only way the extremist organization will be defeated is by local forces, he said. They must put in place the forces, the government and the economic change that will deny ISIL adherents, money and power.
“This campaign is built on the premise that it relies upon other actors,” Dempsey said. “That necessarily requires a degree of patience that we need to nurture, we need to reinforce and we need to understand in the context of the other things we’re trying to accomplish not only in the Middle East but globally.”
That the risk to the United States could increase because of patience is a responsibility he accepts, the chairman said. “But I would also suggest to you that we would contribute mightily to ISIL’s message as a movement were we to confront them directly on the ground in Iraq and Syria,” he said.