My mission is ISIL, not al-Assad, says US army chief

My mission is ISIL, not al-Assad, says US army chief

WASHINGTON - Agence France-Presse
My mission is ISIL, not al-Assad, says US army chief

This handout photo provided the U.S. Department of Defense shows chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, speaking to approximately 150 U.S. military members during a town hall meeting, in Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday. AP Photo

The top-ranking U.S. army officer says his duty is defeating the Islamist militants reigning in Iraq and Syria, not toppling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or leading the transformation in the country.

“The mission I’ve been given is ISIL [Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant]. It’s not nation building, it‘s not overthrowing the Syrian regime,” General Martin Dempsey, joint chiefs of staff chairman, said speaking at the Defense One summit in Washington on Nov. 19.

“The counter-ISIL strategy has to exist in both Iraq and Syria,” but as for the military strategy specifically, he said “the strategy is Iraq first, but not Iraq only.”

Supporting role in Iraq

The general also praised the Iraqi government and military, emphasizing the U.S. is playing a more supporting role to local forces compared to the country’s previous involvements in the country.

Asked why Americans should expect the latest U.S. intervention in Iraq to go better this time, Dempsey said “we think we’re taking a different approach,” Agence France-Presse reported.       

“Instead of grabbing a hold of it, owning it and then gradually transitioning it back, we’re telling them from the start, look, that is about you, this has to be your campaign plan,” he said.

“So they do what they can do, and we fill in the gaps and continue to build their capability,” said Dempsey, who led troops in Iraq in the previous conflict.

President Barack Obama has ruled out a large U.S. ground force in Iraq but has backed air raids against ISIL and sent in hundreds of military advisers to help Iraqi forces.

U.S.-trained Iraqi army units suffered humiliating defeats earlier this year when they were overrun by ISIL jihadists in the west and north, but Dempsey said Baghdad’s forces had been shored up and new commanders were being named.

Iraqi troops are “having some tactical success” and are “pushing the defensive belt around Baghdad out,” he said.

“They are doing much better. But they’ve still got, as I said, some deep structural vulnerabilities that we, but mostly they, have to overcome.”

He warned that it was important that “their enthusiasm doesn’t overshadow their capability at this point.”       

With U.S. and coalition assistance, “I think there will continue to be progress on the ground” over the next few months, the general added.