WASHINGTON — Fighters for the Islamic State were managing to blend in with disenfranchised Sunni populations in some Iraqi towns and villages near the capital, raising the chances of militant attacks against targets in Baghdad, President Obama’s top military adviser said on Sunday.
“I have no doubt there will be days when they use indirect fire into Baghdad,” the adviser, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, said in an interview with “This Week” on ABC.
Indirect fire refers to the use of mortar, rockets or artillery. General Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said American military officers still think that an outright assault on Baghdad remains unlikely, but that strikes from a distance by militants infiltrating areas near the capital could greatly heighten the sense of insecurity in Iraq’s most important city.
Iraqi and American officials believe the Islamic State has already carried out some car-bomb and suicide attacks inside Baghdad.
Graphic | How ISIS WorksWith oil revenues, arms and organization, the jihadist group controls vast stretches of Syria and Iraq and aspires to statehood.
General Dempsey, who created controversy last month when he testified before a Congressional committee that he could envision circumstances in which he might recommend to President Obama the limited use of American ground troops as advisers in combat conditions, said on Sunday that he had not encountered such a circumstance. But he added, “There will be circumstances when the answer to that question will likely be yes.”
He went on to suggest that “Mosul will likely be the decisive battle in the ground campaign at some point in the future.”
When a counteroffensive to recapture Mosul, the largest Iraqi city under insurgent control, could be mounted remains unclear. The American official coordinating the international coalition, John R. Allen, a retired Marine general, said recently that the Iraqi military would not be ready to try to retake the city for as much as a year.
Whenever that happens, General Dempsey said, “My instinct at this point is that that will require a different kind of advising and assisting, because of the complexity of that fight.”
But Susan E. Rice, the president’s national security adviser, emphasized Sunday that no such move was yet under serious consideration.
“No, there has been no recommendation from the American military commanders, either on the ground or here in Washington, that the United States put any ground combat forces into Iraq,” she said on “Meet the Press” on NBC. “That has not come up the chain to anybody at the White House. And I don’t anticipate that it will.”
General Dempsey left the door open to the possibility that United States forces might take part in a flight-exclusion zone over part of Syria – a key demand from Turkey if it is to actively join the coalition fight against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.
“If you mean have I been asked to do it, the answer is no,” he said. “Do I anticipate that there could be circumstances in the future where we were — where that would be part of the campaign? Yeah.”
Ms. Rice said a flight-exclusion zone or a buffer zone between Syria and Turkey had long been favored by Turkey, but added, “We don’t see it at this point as essential to the goal of degrading and ultimately destroying ISIL.” She said the United States would continue to consult with Turkey about any “specific proposals.”
General Dempsey painted a decidedly mixed picture of the campaign against the Islamic State describing a nimble foe that has adjusted rapidly to coalition air attacks by blending in better with local populations.
Asked whether it was true that only 10 percent of coalition warplanes were actually dropping their bombs, he said: “That wouldn’t surprise me if that’s the right number. An enemy adapts and they’ll be harder to target. They know how to maneuver and how to use populations and concealment.”
But he also described ways in which militant forces have been pushed back or weakened by coalition airpower combined with Iraqi forces and the pesh merga fighters of Iraq’s northern Kurdish region.
“It wasn’t so long ago that we were talking about the imminent fall of Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan regional government,” he said. “It wasn’t so long ago when the U.S. Embassy was actually feeling threatened in Baghdad. None of those are part of the landscape right now.”
He also described how United States Apache helicopters helped an embattled Iraqi Army unit halt an Islamic State threat against the road to the Baghdad airport. “Had they overrun the Iraqi unit it was a straight shot to the airport,” General Dempsey said. “So, we’re not going to allow that to happen. We need that airport.”
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(via NY Times)