usatoday.com/Dempsey: U.S. advisers may fight alongside Iraqis

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SHAFAQNA – Gen. Martin Dempsey, the military’s top officer, told a Senate panel Tuesday he will recommend having U.S.advisers fight with Iraqi troops against the militant Islamic State group if the situation requires it. “To be clear, if we reach the point where I believe our advisers should accompany Iraqi troops on attacks against specific ISIL targets, I will recommend that to the president,” said Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. U.S. advisers could be called on to get closer to the fight, Dempsey said, if Iraqi security forces undertake a complex operation such as retaking the city of Mosul. The United States is at war the militant Islamic State group, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said, and the fight “will not be an easy or brief effort. It is complicated.” “We are at war with ISIL, as we are with al-Qaeda,” Hagel said. “But destroying ISIL will require more than military efforts alone. It will require political progress in the region, and effective partners on the ground in Iraq and Syria.” Dempsey and Hagel appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee to outline President Obama’s plan to fight the Islamic State, which is also referred to as ISIL or ISIS.

Hagel said, if unchecked, the Islamic State “will directly threaten our homeland and our allies.” However, U.S. intelligence agencies have not detected specific plots by IS against targets in the U.S., Hagel said.

The offensive, led by U.S. airstrikes, includes bolstering Iraqi security forces and training moderate Syrian opposition forces.

“The new, broader air campaign will include strikes against all ISIL targets and enable the Iraqi security forces – including Kurdish forces – to continue to stay on the offensive and recapture territory from ISIL and hold it,” Hagel said.

Committee chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., branded IS’s ideology “hostile not only to the region but to the world, and there is a real risk that the area it controls could become a launching pad for future terrorist attacks against the United States and its allies.”

Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., the ranking member of the committee, said Obama had downplayed the threat from IS to the U.S. homeland. The strategy is “fundamentally detached” from the dire situation, he said.

“It will take an army to beat an army,” Inhofe said.

A key part of the Pentagon’s $500 million plan would train, equip and resupply 5,400 fighters in Syria per year, Hagel said.

The equipment would initially include small arms, vehicles and other equipment, Hagel said. If the forces prove to be effective fighters, they will be provided increasingly sophisticated weaponry. The opposition forces would be carefully vetted before they receive training and weapons.

Sen. John McCain, R.-Ariz, pressed Hagel and Dempsey on the U.S. response if President Bashar Assad’s air forces attacked moderate Syrian moderate forces. Hagel and Dempsey replied that it was premature to consider that.

McCain accused Dempsey of “fundamental misunderstanding” of the motivation of the Free Syrian Army to fight against the Syrian regime.

On Monday, the Pentagon launched the initial attack of the expanded air war that President Obama ordered last week. In that strike, a single IS fighting position was destroyed by a U.S. warplane.

The Pentagon has bolstered its own forces in Iraq in recent weeks. In all, there are about 1,600 U.S. personnel there. Obama ordered 475 of them last week, including advisers, a headquarters group and more troops to support spy plane missions.

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