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Robert Gates: ISIS Can't Be Defeated Without US Ground Troops

Robert Gates: ISIS Can't Be Defeated Without US Ground Troops
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates. (John Thys/AFP/Getty Images)

Wednesday, 17 September 2014 01:14 PM

President Barack Obama forcefully reaffirmed that he won’t send American troops into combat in Iraq amid fresh questions about whether the U.S. can avoid sliding deeper into an escalating conflict.

“This is not and will not be America’s fight alone,” Obama told troops at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, referring to the battle against the Islamic State extremist group. “I will not commit you and the rest of our armed forces to fighting another ground war in Iraq.”

Obama spoke after meeting with Central Command Commander General Lloyd Austin, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and representatives of more than 40 countries that are part of the coalition the U.S. is building to counter Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria.

Obama is trying to rally an American public weary of war for a battle against the Sunni extremists who’ve seized territory across Iraq and Syria with a brutal campaign of terror against religious minorities and the beheadings of western hostages.

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While the president vowed that he won’t deploy U.S. ground troops in the battle, Army General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Obama’s former defense secretary raised the prospect that American troops ultimately may be needed for his strategy to succeed.

Military Advisers

In testimony to a Senate committee yesterday, Dempsey said he would recommend U.S. military advisers accompany Iraqi troops into battle if necessary to defeat Islamic State, which also is known by the acronyms ISIS and ISIL.

Dempsey added that such a step isn’t needed now. He said Obama has told him to come back on a “case-by-case basis” with questions about using American personnel.

Obama didn’t directly address Dempsey’s remarks. He said that while the U.S. has a responsibility to lead the fight, it can’t do “what Iraqis must do for themselves.” The U.S. will be more effective providing intelligence, logistics and air power than it would be sending in troops. A U.S. troop commitment also won’t help the cause of long-term stability and self-sufficiency in the region, he said.

“One thing we have learned is that when we do things alone and the people of those countries aren’t doing it for themselves, as soon as we leave, they start getting into the same problems,” Obama said.

‘Hypothetical Scenario’

Administration officials yesterday sought to turn aside any questions about escalating U.S. involvement.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Dempsey was referring to “a hypothetical scenario” and that the administration’s strategy was clear.

“The president does not believe that it would be in the best interest of our national security to deploy American ground troops in a combat role in Iraq and Syria,” Earnest told reporters yesterday. “That policy has not changed.”

Dempsey’s spokesman, Air Force Colonel Ed Thomas, said such advisers might include personnel calling in airstrikes for Iraqi forces.

“The context of this discussion was focused on how our forces advise the Iraqis and was not a discussion of employing U.S. ground combat units in Iraq,” he said.

The U.S. is set to have about 1,600 military personnel in Iraq to protect American diplomatic missions and to assess and advise the Iraqi military.

U.S. Airstrikes

Obama’s strategy is based on a campaign of airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq to back Iraqi and Kurdish units on the ground.

Robert Gates, who served under both Obama and his predecessor, George W. Bush, said he doubted that an air campaign alone or relying only on Iraqi and Kurdish forces would be enough.

“There will be boots on the ground if there’s to be any hope of success in the strategy,” Gates said today on “CBS This Morning.” By repeatedly pledging that the U.S. won’t put troops into combat, “the president, in effect, traps himself.”

Gates, who took over the defense job in the Bush administration in 2006 following setbacks for U.S. forces in Iraq, said Obama’s stated goal of destroying the extremist group may be unrealistic. He said the U.S. has been at war with al-Qaeda for 13 years, and while “we have dealt them some terrible blows,” the terrorist group hasn’t been fully defeated.

‘Realistic Goals’

The U.S. should continue to strike Islamic State to degrade the organization and prevent it from holding territory, he said. “Those are probably realistic goals.”

Obama also has asked Congress for authority to train and equip vetted Syrian rebels who are rivals to Islamic State in that country’s civil war. A vote on that authority was approved in the House today 273-156.

While some Republicans are pushing for a more robust military operation against Islamic State, many of Obama’s fellow Democrats in Congress say they won’t support deeper involvement.

“We are not there to support combat troops in any engagement,” House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said at a news conference today. “The American people are very burned by what happened in Iraq” with the 2003 invasion.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar Al-Abadi said his county neither needs nor wants foreign ground troops. In an interview with the Associated Press, he urged the U.S. and other nations to expand the campaign against Islamic State into neighboring Syria.

Coalition Aid

More than 40 countries have offered assistance in a global coalition to fight Islamic militants, Obama said. France and the U.K. are conducting airstrikes over Iraq, “with others committed to join this effort,” he said.

On the ground, Saudi Arabia will host U.S. efforts to train and equip Syrian opposition forces. Australia and Canada are sending military advisers to Iraq, German paratroopers are offering training and other, unspecified nations are offering to resupply arms and equipment to forces in Iraq.

Arab nations “have agreed to strengthen their support for Iraq’s new government,” and help to cut off Islamic State funding, collect intelligence and stem the flow of foreign fighters.

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President Barack Obama forcefully reaffirmed that he won't send American troops into combat in Iraq amid fresh questions about whether the U.S. can avoid sliding deeper into an escalating conflict. "This is not and will not be America's fight alone," Obama told troops at...
obama, robert, gates, isis, boots, ground
Wednesday, 17 September 2014 01:14 PM
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