Outgoing U.S. Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno said Wednesday that the U.S. should consider putting boots on the ground in Iraq if the battle against the Islamic State militant group does not improve.
“If we find in the next several months that we aren’t making progress, we should absolutely consider embedding some soldiers in Iraq,” Gen. Odierno said in his final press conference, CNN reported.
Gen. Odierno said the idea was one that “we should present to the president.”
But he stopped short of suggesting the same strategy for Syria.
“Syria is different,” he said, CNN reported.
He suggested partitioning Iraq and Syria “might be the only solution” to defeat the jihadist group that has seized large portions of the country.
Lamenting the underlying conflict between the Shiites and Sunnis that brought the two communities to the brink of civil war in 2006, Gen. Odierno said the possibility of reconciling the two is “becoming more difficult by the day.”
Gen. Odierno stressed that the U.S. alone cannot take on the fight against the terrorist group, saying, “I absolutely believe the region has to solve this problem. The U.S. can’t solve this,” CNN reported.
He pushed back on Republican rhetoric blaming the Obama administration for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq in 2011, arguing that, at the time, the Iraqi parliament would not have approved a longer stay for American troops.
“I remind everybody, us leaving at the end of 2011 was negotiated in 2008 by the Bush administration. That was always the plan,” Gen. Odierno said. “We had promised them that we would respect their sovereignty.”
GOP 2016 candidates have attacked President Obama for pulling out of Iraq too early, accusing him of setting up a void for the Islamic State to eventually fill.
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