General Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and President Obama’s top military adviser, told members of Congress on Thursday that the U.S. is actively considering deploying a limited number of U.S. combat troops to fight alongside Iraqi soldiers moving to retake Mosul and other areas under the control of Islamic State (ISIS) militants in Iraq.
"I’m not predicting at this point that I would recommend that those forces in Mosul and along the border would need to be accompanied by U.S. forces, but we’re certainly considering it," Dempsey told the House Armed Services Committee.
The statement comes just days after Obama authorized doubling the number of U.S. troops in Iraq, further indicating that U.S. forces will have the "boots on the ground" presence that Obama initially pledged against. Thus far, Obama has authorized the deployment of 3,100 U.S. advisers, trainers, and support personnel for Iraq, but has promised American forces would not be used in direct combat roles.
Critics point out that by most measures, the U.S. has already returned to ground combat in Iraq.
"If there are US troops on the front lines in al-Anbar, where ISIL has been expanding its reach in recent months, then unfortunately there are likely to be US casualties," Juan Cole said on Saturday. "These are boots on the ground, even if there are not combat platoons going into battle by themselves."
And as the Center for Constitutional Rights tweeted on Thursday, subsequent to Dempsey's testimony:
The Guardian reports:
Even with potential US involvement in ground combat looming, Dempsey and his boss, defense secretary Chuck Hagel, said further troop increases would be “modest,” and not on the order of the 150,000 US troops occupying Iraq at the height of the 2003-2011 war.
“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 said.
But should the Iraqi military prove unwilling to take back “al-Anbar province and Ninewa province”—the majority of territory in Iraq seized by Isis—or should new Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi exclude Sunnis from power, “I will have to adjust my recommendations,” Dempsey said.