Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, landed in Iraq on Saturday to discuss ongoing US-led strikes in the region, only two days after he told the U.S. House Armed Services Committee that he was considering deploying combat troops in areas under attack by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
The trip, which was unannounced, was Dempsey's first visit to Iraq since the U.S. began its offensive against ISIS. Shortly before landing in Baghdad, the general told Reuters that he "want[ed] to get a sense from our side about how our contribution is going."
"I want to hear from those actually doing the lifting that they've the resources they need and the proper guidance to use those resources," Dempsey added.
The general's spokesman, Air Force Col. Ed Thomas, said the "primary purpose of his visit is to get a firsthand look at the situation in Iraq, receive briefings, and get better sense of how the campaign is progressing."
Dempsey's visit comes a week after President Barack Obama authorized sending up to 1,500 more forces to Iraq, bringing the total amount of troops in Iraq to 3,000, who are due to start training and advising Iraqi and Kurdish forces.
Obama has promised that U.S. involvement in the region will be limited to advising and training, without "troops on the ground," but critics note that the military has already started 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 last week. "These are boots on the ground, even if there are not combat platoons going into battle by themselves."
Associated Press notes:
The Iraqi military and security forces, trained by the U.S. at the cost of billions of dollars, melted away in the face of ISIS’ stunning offensive this summer, when they captured most of northern and western Iraq, including the country’s second-largest city, Mosul.
Dempsey told the committee on Thursday that any effort to win back Mosul and other areas, including those along the border of Syria, would require more complex operations—and perhaps on-the-ground involvement of American troops.
"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,” he said.
State television news agencies reported on Saturday that Iraqi troops had recaptured a strategic oil refinery town in what they said was the army's biggest victory against ISIS yet. But unrest continued elsewhere on Saturday, as two car bombs exploded minutes apart near a checkpoint north of Baghdad that was staffed by army soldiers and security forces, authorities said.
AP writes: "The attack killed nine people and wounded 32, according to police and hospital officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief journalists."