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Gen. Dempsey: U.S. Troops Could Be Part of ISIL Fight

Gen. Dempsey: U.S. Troops Could Be Part of ISIL Fight

By Adam O'Neal - September 16, 2014

Top Obama administration officials, during a Tuesday morning Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, laid out several examples of how U.S. troops could take part in combat operations against the terrorist organization ISIL. 

“My view at this point is that [the current coalition fighting ISIL] is the appropriate way forward,” said Joints Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey. “… But if it fails to be true, and if there are threats to the United States, then I of course would go back to the president and make a recommendation that may include the use of U.S. military ground forces.” 

Dempsey later offered a specific situation that could merit the use of American troops in Iraq. 

“An example, if the Iraqi security forces and [Kurdish Peshmerga] were at some point ready to retake Mosul … it could very well be part of that particular mission to provide close combat advising, or accompanying for that mission.” 

Asked if U.S. forces would engage in combat search-and-rescue operations if a pilot is shot down over Iraq, Dempsey replied yes. He also left open the possibility of recommending the United States deploy ground forces to direct  close air support in future operations.  

President Obama has instructed Dempsey to consult with him on a “case by case” basis about ground forces, according to the general, who also noted that the president has publicly ruled out putting U.S. boots on the ground. 

Dempsey and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel faced pointed questioning from Democratic and Republican senators about the president’s plan to combat ISIL.

Asked by committee Chairman Carl Levin how training 5,000 moderate Syrian rebels would “match up” against ISIL’s force of at least 30,000 soldiers, Hagel answered that “5,000 is a beginning.” 

“We may do better,” he added. “But we don’t want to overstate or overpromise.”

John McCain, who has had a contentious relationship with Hagel, asked his former Senate colleague if the United States would “take out” Bashar al Assad’s “air assets” should they attack rebels supported by the United States. 

“We’re first of all not there yet, but our focus is on ISIL,” responded Hagel. After being pressed by McCain, Hagel said that the U.S. would “help” and “support” forces it is training. 

 “I guess I’m not going to get an answer,” retorted McCain.  

The hearing was interrupted several times by antiwar protesters. As one demonstrator was ushered out of the hearing -- while shouting “No more war” and “No military solution” -- a miffed Levin said, “You’re acting very war-like yourself.”

Adam O'Neal is a political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at aoneal@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealClearAdam.

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