President Barack Obama's top military adviser on Friday insisted that ground troops will be necessary to fully defeat the Islamic State in Syria, and warned again that he would not hesitate to recommend U.S. forces for the job.
However, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey indicated his preference would be that forces from other countries take on that role.
Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey on Friday again said he wouldn't hesitate to recommend using U.S. troops to fight terrorists in Syria, but said right now, "we haven't reached that point." (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Dempsey caused a stir earlier this month when he told Congress he might recommend ground troops, even as the White House was saying no U.S. ground forces would ever be used in the campaign to defeat the Islamic State. Dempsey's comments forced the White House to argue that U.S. ground forces are still not foreseen at all in the campaign.
But Friday, Dempsey raised that specter again by saying he would not hesitate to recommend U.S. troops if it comes to that point.
"If you're suggesting that I might at some point recommend that we need a large ground force to counter ISIL, the answer to that is also absolutely, but it doesn't have to be Americans," he told reporters.
"In fact, ideally, for the kind of issues we're confronting there, the ideal force, in fact, the only truly effective force, that will actually be able to reject ISIL from within its own population is a force comprised of Iraqis and Kurds and moderate Syrian opposition," he added. "At some point, if we have to advise them more closely than currently we are, of course I'd recommend it, but we haven't reached that point."
Dempsey spoke alongside Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who said Obama has insisted on hearing "honest" military advice, and said he has been getting it.
"The president gave me a mission, destroy ISIL. And I will recommend to him what it takes to destroy ISIL."
Dempsey said he believes the Syrian opposition can be trained to fight the Islamic State on the ground, but said it will take time before that can happen. He said he's hopeful that 10 to 15 thousand Syrians can ultimately be trained.
Hagel added that the Defense Department is still running the numbers on the overall cost of the effort. "We're doing that now," he said.