America’s top military leader arrived Saturday to Baghdad, Iraqi state television reported, his first visit to the country since a U.S.-led coalition began a campaign of airstrikes targeting the extremist Islamic State group.
The visit by Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, was not previously announced. It came just two days after he told Congress that the United States would consider dispatching a modest number of American forces to fight with Iraqi troops in the campaign against the Islamic State group.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress the three-month old war with ISIS was ‘just beginning’ and American troops could play a key role in the next phase of the conflict.
Hagel and Dempsey were pressing for Congressional approval for $5.6 billion dollars which President Barack Obama wants to expand the US mission in Iraq. The administration is also pressing for reauthorization of its plan to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels when that mandate expires on December 11.
Hagel said the US currently had a ‘modest force’ in Iraq now serving as advisers and trainers, adding: “Any expansion of that, I think, would be equally modest. I just don’t foresee a circumstance when it would be in our interest to take this fight on ourselves with a large military contingent.”
Dempsey told the House committee yesterday that the US strategy on IS also depended on how well new Iraqi prime minister Haidar al-Abadi could rebuild his military and bridge the country’s deep sectarian and tribal divisions.
He added: “One of the important assumptions about this campaign is that the Iraqi government does establish its intent to create a government of national unity. I can predict for you right now, if that doesn’t happen, then the Iraqi security forces will not hold together.”