There’s good news and bad news, everyone.
The good news is that Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey is confident that all of the vast Iraqi territory lost to the Islamic State can be recovered. The bad news is that he thinks it will take no fewer than 80,000 “competent” soldiers to do it.
Iraq will need about 80,000 effective military troops to retake the terrain it lost to Islamic State militants and restore its border with Syria, the top U.S. general said on Thursday.
“We’re going to need about 80,000 competent Iraqi security forces to recapture territory lost, and eventually the city of Mosul, to restore the border,” Army General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff, told a congressional hearing.
Dempsey said the request for more U.S. forces in Iraq would create centers to help train the additional troops needed.
If that sounds like an impossible task for the Iraqi Army, which famously supplied ISIS with much of their equipment when many Iraqi Security Forces retreated from engagements with the Islamist insurgency, Dempsey seems to agree.
In testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, Dempsey conceded he is considering recommending sending American combat troops, not advisors, to accompany Iraqi forces in their efforts to dislodge ISIS soldiers from the Iraqi territory they currently control.
Retaking the critical city of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest, and re-establishing the border between Iraq and Syria that Isis has erased “will be fairly complex terrain” for the Iraqi security forces that the US is once again supporting.
“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 US forces, but we’re certainly considering it,” Dempsey said.
Dempsey added, however, that he does not envision a troop presence in Iraq of a size similar to the massive influx of American forces into that country during the Iraq 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.
There is a lot of wiggle room between the present 2,800 U.S. combat advisors presently in Iraq and the 150,000 soldiers that occupied that country from 2003 to 2011. And Dempsey needs every inch of the wiggle room he has provided himself.
If retaking key areas like al-Anbar and Nineveh Provinces proves too difficult for the Iraqi forces, Dempsey conceded that he “will have to adjust my recommendations.”
…So, mostly bad news.