US military advisors are likely to take a more direct role in the ground campaign against jihadists in Iraq once Iraqi forces are ready to go on the offensive, the top US officer said in comments aired Sunday.
General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he had not yet encountered a situation where US air strikes would be more effective if US troops were on the ground spotting targets.
But he said that when Iraqi forces are ready to take the offensive against the Islamic State jihadists who have overrun swaths of territory in northern and western Iraq, as well as in Syria, that would likely change.
“Mosul will likely be the decisive battle in the ground campaign at some point in the future,” Dempsey said in an interview with ABC’s “This Week,” referring to the northern Iraqi city seized by IS militants in June.
“My instinct at this point is that will require a different kind of advising and assisting because of the complexity of that fight,” he said.
Dempsey caused a stir last month when he told lawmakers that if he believed US military advisors should accompany Iraqi troops on the ground against IS fighters he would recommend that to President Barack Obama.
Obama has insisted there would be no US boots on the ground.
Doubts remain, however, that the Iraqi military will be strong enough to go on the offensive any time soon, creating another lure for more direct US military involvement.
Dempsey revealed that US Apache attack helicopters had to be called in recently to repel an IS attack on Iraqi forces 20 to 25 kilometers (12 to 15 miles) from the Baghdad airport.
“Had they overrun the Iraqi unit, it was a straight shot to the airport, so we’re not going to allow that to happen. We need that airport,” he said.