WASHINGTON, D.C. — Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told the House Armed Services Committee that the U.S.-led military effort to train Iraqi forces to combat the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) has been “slowed” by a lack of recruits.
The U.S. had hoped to train 24,000 Iraqi Security Forces by this upcoming fall, but so far it has only received enough recruits to train “about 7,000, in addition to about 2,000 Counterterrorism Service personnel,” revealed Carter in written testimony prepared for a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Wednesday.
“As I’ve told Iraqi leaders, while the United States is open to supporting Iraq more than we already are, we must see a greater commitment from all parts of the Iraqi government,” he explained.
Carter described the U.S. ground campaign in Iraq, which includes the program to train and equip Iraqi troops, as a “work in progress.”
Rep. Ryan Zinke, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, told Breitbart News that the U.S. having trouble recruiting Iraqis to fight against ISIS was something to be expected.
“I’m not surprised at all because one, the Sunni population does not trust us and, two, the centralized Iraqi government, which we continue to support the Sunnis and Kurds through, has now become a vehicle for Iranian influence,” said the only Navy Seal in Congress who served as the deputy and acting commander of Special Forces in Iraq.
“So the conclusion, I think rightly, is that the Sunnis no longer view the centralized government as a legitimate power. Their options have become either to defend themselves or integrate in with ISIS,” he added.
House Armed Services Committee members from both parties expressed concerns in response to Carter’s assessment of the U.S. training efforts in Iraq. Some argued in favor of an increased American military footprint in the region while others appeared troubled by a slow, perpetual increase of U.S. troops deployed to the conflict.
President Obama, earlier this month, approved the deployment of an additional 450 non-combat U.S. troops to Iraq, bringing the number already there to more than 3,500. The American troops were sent to train and assists their Iraqi counterparts, not to participate in ground combat, a point that was emphasized by Carter.
“Putting U.S. combat troops on the ground as a substitute for local forces will not produce enduring results,” said Carter in his prepared remarks.
Nevertheless, he added, “We determined that while we have the right strategic framework, execution of the campaign can and should be strengthened… especially on the ground.”
Army Gen. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who testified alongside Carter, told lawmakers that he would not recommend the use of U.S. ground troops for combat.
“We’re still operating under the false assumption that you can defeat ISIS by air operations alone and by training a very reluctant force,” Rep. Zinke told Breitbart News. He suggested that “nothing less than a brigade” should be deployed to combat ISIS on the ground if the mission is to defeat and degrade the jihadist group.
During the hearing, Carter and Gen. Dempsey unveiled a nine-point plan to counter ISIS, of which the training of trusted local forces is a central pillar.
Zinke said the plan was “disappointing.”
He noted that it failed to address three key areas: A policy in Syria; the continuing expansion of Iranian influence within the territory of Iraq; and the potential use of ground troops to combat ISIS.
“What Secretary Ash laid out is our best wish list,” declared Zinke, “a wish list of what would happen, but we don’t have a policy of how to get there.”
Carter highlighted the importance of recruiting Sunni tribal forces and equipping Kurdish fighters
“We determined that our training efforts could be enhanced and thus are now focusing on increasing participation in and throughout our training efforts, working closely with the Iraqi government and stressing the focus on drawing in Sunni forces, which are underrepresented in the Iraqi Security Forces,” he told lawmakers.
“We also determined that our equipping of the Iraqi Security Forces had proceeded too slowly. This process was earlier sometimes delayed by bureaucracy in Baghdad, but occasionally also in Washington. That is why we are now expediting delivery of essential equipment and materiel, like anti-tank capabilities and counter-IED security forces – including Kurdish and Sunni tribal forces,” he added.
Training Syrian rebels to fight the ISIS and other jihadists in Syria has also proven to be difficult.
Carter acknowledged that the U.S. was facing difficulties in finding local forces who could be trusted to take on ISIS in Syria.
Gen. Dempsey echoed concerns about the difficulty the U.S. is having in recruiting and retaining trusted local forces in Iraq and Syria, notes The Guardian.