In one of the most negative assessments yet of America’s war against ISIS, Gen. Ray Odierno said the U.S. should commit ground troops to bolster local forces in order to break the “stalemate” against the terror group.
At his final press conference on Wednesday, the outgoing Army Chief of Staff who retires on Friday confirmed the U.S. strategy against ISIS forces in Iraq has stalled and might need more American troops on the battlefield to work.
“I believe if we find in the next several months that we are not making the progress that we have, we should absolutely embed some soldiers with them and see if that would make a difference,” he told reporters. “That doesn't mean there would be fighting, but it would be, you know, maybe abetting them and moving with them. I think that is an option we should present to the president when the time is right.”
Odierno said, “If we could go with a certain amount of American forces, we could probably defeat [ISIS].” However, the “problem would be, will we be right back where we are six months later?”
The four-star’s comments signal that Iraq will remain a major issue in the final years of the Obama administration and on the 2016 campaign trail.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush reignited debate earlier this week when he offered a sharp critique of President Obama, and by extension former Secretary of State Hillary, for withdrawing U.S. forces from the country in 2011. “That premature withdrawal was the fatal error, creating the void that ISIS moved in to fill – and that Iran has exploited to the full as well,” he said.
Bush, like many GOP presidential hopefuls, has called for more aggressive measures against ISIS, including embedding U.S. troops with Iraqi forces.
Clinton hasn’t shied away from engaging on Iraq, especially since Bush’s brother oversaw the original invasion in 2003. “We can’t go back to a go-it-alone foreign policy that views American boots on the ground as a first choice rather than as a last resort. We have paid too high a price,” she said in a recent speech.
The 3,500 U.S. troops stationed in Iraq today are there to train local forces and assist in planning and logistics, not engage directly in combat. Obama has adamantly refused to delve deeper into the conflict.
While the debate on Iraq remains fluid, Odierno did disagree with an assessment by GOP presidential frontrunner Donald Trump that American military power would be enough to defeat ISIS. In an interview on Tuesday, the real estate mogul said that as commander-in-chief he would “go in and take oil” from the Islamic State, cutting off its main revenue source.
“Go and take the money source away,” he told CNN. “Believe me, they would start to wither, and they would collapse.”
Odierno said the “problem we’ve had is we’ve had outcomes, but they’ve been only short-term outcomes because we haven’t properly looked at the political and economic side of it. It has got to be three[JL1] [military, economic and political] that come together. And if you don’t do that, it will not solve the problem, and that is what I continue to look at.”
He added that if ISIS posed an imminent threat of launching a devastating attack, he would view things differently.
“That is not where we are today,” Odierno said. “What we want to do is try to stop… a group that is potentially attempting to be a long-term influence in the Middle East, that is clearly promoting extremism and frankly suppressing populations in the Middle East. In order to resolve that, you need countries of the Middle East and those surrounding the Middle East to be involved in the solution.”
Pressed on if that means he disagrees with the reality TV star, Odierno replied: “I do, I do. Right now, I do.”