The Pentagon on Friday downplayed the U.S. military’s role in defeating the Islamic State, saying the prime target is not it’s army, but its ideology.
The ground fighting has to be done by “indigenous forces,” said Rear Adm. John Kirby, spokesman for Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
Adm. Kirby said American troops will not go into the field on combat missions to directly aid Iraqis and Kurdish forces in trying to take back towns and territory. He ruled out, for example, U.S. service members going into battle to spot targets for U.S. warplanes overhead.
He said the Iraqi Security Forces, which ran from ISIL invaders and have since been reshuffled with the help of U.S military advisers in Baghdad, are “much more capable.”
“We have willing and capable partners on the ground in Iraq,” he said.
He did say the air campaign would become “more aggressive.” The U.S. has conducted more than 100 air strikes on the Islamic State (ISIL and ISIS) in Iraq. The strikes have been limited to protecting Americans, civilians and facilities, and defending humanitarian missions.
Adm. Kirby previously said that 475 additional U.S. military personnel are arriving in Iraq as the mission changes from assessment to advise and assist. He said 15 to 20 teams will advise the Iraqis at the brigade headquarters level or above, but not go into combat with them.
Adm. Kirby’s Friday remarks downplaying the military’s role came two days after President Obama told the nation he had authorized a new counter-terrorism campaign against ISIL. He said it would include hunting down ISIL leaders and might include bombing strikes inside Syria.
Analysts told The Washington Times this week that the mission to defeat ISIL is doomed unless U.S. ground troops go out into the field and directly assist Iraqis and spot targets for air strikes.
The group attacks hundreds of foreign fighters with its goal of establishing a harsh Islamic state guided by Muslim Sharia law.
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