Retired General Ham: Iraq Circumstances 'Very Very Different' Than Benghazi

Sunday, 10 Aug 2014 10:58 AM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Fears of "another Benghazi" came into play with the president's decision to order airstrikes on ISIS militants in Iraq, but the situation is much different this time around, says retired U.S. Army Gen. Carter Ham, the former head of U.S. forces in Africa.

"The circumstances are very, very different," Ham told ABC "This Week" host Martha Raddatz on Sunday. "There was, as least as far as I'm aware, no word of imminent attack at the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, [but it's] different in Iraq, where there's an imminent threat. So the level of preparation, I think, is much more significant in Iraq today than it was possible in Libya in 2012."

Ham, who has commanded U.S. and coalition forces in Mosul, Iraq, said Sunday that the initial airstrikes are having some effect on ISIS forces. There have been a few airstrikes by the United States and "many more by the Iraqi air force, which is encouraging."

The airstrikes appear to "have at least given pause to the Islamic extremists as they seek to advance toward Erbil and other cities."

However, he noted that it will take "much more effort" to achieve a "positive outcome" or a long-term solution to the extremists' threats.

Ham is also not worried that the mission will extend beyond airstrikes or humanitarian relief for the members of religious minorities in Iraq who have been forced out of their homes and, in some cases, killed by ISIS.

"The president has said no combat forces," Ham told Raddatz. "It remains to be seen how much support the United States is ready to provide, first to the Kurdish regional government in Iraq and their armed forces."

In addition, he hopes the United States will help the Iraqi government reform and the Iraqi military will be rebuilt.

Ham admitted Sunday that it will be very difficult for President Barack Obama to fulfill his goals of protecting Iraq's infrastructure without sending in combat troops.

One key piece of that infrastructure, the Mosul Dam, was seized by ISIS last week. Experts warned that if the poorly built structure isn't maintained, the structure could fail, causing massive flooding problems, reports The New York Daily News.

But keeping such key features from being seized will be "very difficult without U.S. ground forces or the ground forces of others," said Ham.

Ham said Sunday that he agrees with Obama that Iraq needs to form a responsible government, which will help a future Iraqi army remain loyal and stand their ground against ISIS.

ISIS forces were able to advance, in part, because members of the Iraqi army laid down their arms and fled the ISIS advance, allowing the militants to collect American-made weapons left for the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Former Ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill, who served there from 2009-2010, was also on the Sunday show to discuss the current situation and Obama's decision to order airstrikes. He told Raddatz that while he believes the world has been paying attention to Iraq, there were many other crises in the world that were drowning out what was going on.

"This is a problem that's not just in Iraq," said Hill. "It's a broader problem. ISIS is part of a situation in Syria that has metastasized into Iraq. The naming of a new prime minister not named Maliki might be helpful, but I don't think it's going to solve this problem. "

But Hill doesn't quite agree with statements from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and others that the failure to arm rebels in Syria led to the rise of ISIS.

"The idea that you could arm some rebels and not others I think is a difficult proposition," said Hill. "After all, if Assad was hit by a bus, there [would] still be a problem in Syria because no one knows what that country is going to look like in the future."

The major problem in Syria, more than the U.S. not putting out more weapons, is the lack of a diplomatic solution, said Hill.

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