Fifty percent of the Iraqi army is incapable of partnering with the US to combat Islamic State (IS) militants and the other half will need further training and equipment, America's top military officer warned on Wednesday, following remarks in which he said Washington may need to deploy troops in the ground offensive against the extremist group.
General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters that American military teams had found 26 out of 50 of Baghdad's army brigades could not work effectively with the US, and that the remaining 24 would require additional training and equipment and were too dominated by Shiites to be described as a genuinely national army, Sky News reported. He added, however, that the troops "appear to have a national instinct, instead of a sectarian instinct," were well equipped and led by capable commanders .
Dempsey said on Tuesday that American boots on the ground might be required to combat IS in Iraq. Speaking to a Senate panel, he said that while there were currently no plans to deploy US military advisors in combat roles, he could foreseeably recommend an expansion in their role during vital offensives such as an attempt to retake Iraq's second city of Mosul, which fell to IS in early June when the group overran a significant portion of the country's northern regions.
"It could very well be part of that particular mission - to provide close combat advising or accompanying for that mission," Dempsey said, according to Reuters, adding that while US President Barack Obama had said there would not be American troops involved in such roles, he had also been told by the US president "come back to him on a case-by-case basis."
However, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said that Obama had been clear that he "will not deploy ground troops in a combat role into Iraq or Syria," during a Tuesday press briefing.
IS released a new video following Dempsey's remarks, apparently warning the US that it would be ready for any American troops deployed against it. The short video, entitled "Flames of War," opens with the logo of IS's English-language propaganda arm Al-Hayat Media Centre and includes footage of militants blowing up tanks, injured US soldiers and a snippet of Obama saying that American combat troops would not be returning to fight in Iraq. It ends with text saying "fighting has just begun".
The US has been conducting airstrikes on IS targets in Iraq since August, when the Sunni extremist group made a push into territory controlled by the Western-backed Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) and seemingly threatened the capital of Erbil. Obama said last week that he had authorized strikes in Syria too, although none have yet taken place.
The president is scheduled to be briefed on Wednesday on Central Command plans to bomb IS in Syria, however. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Tuesday that this would involve targeting "command and control, logistics capabilities and infrastructure," Bloomberg reported.
US aircraft continued to attack US targets in Iraq this week, conducting five strikes on Monday and Tuesday near the capital of Baghdad and north of Erbil, according to a US Central Command statement. IS vehicles, anti-aircraft positions, ground units and boats were destroyed in the strikes which takes the total number of attacks to 167, the statement added.
Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon asked countries that were able to to take "decisive" action against IS during a press conference on Tuesday, commenting: "I ... urge the international community, and those with the means, to act decisively and after sober reflection," Reuters reported. Ban went on to say that US airstrikes had saved "a lot of human lives"
A group of around 30 countries pledged to provide military assistance to Iraqi authorities to help combat IS on Monday. However the agreement, which came after frantic efforts to cobble together a coalition, did not outline the role which would be played by each party.