Rice Defends US Islamic State Strategy

Dempsey: More US effort on ground will likely be needed in Mosul

Susan Rice / AP
• October 12, 2014 3:45 pm


On Sunday, National Security Advisor Susan Rice said the United States would not reevaluate the strategy to "degrade and destroy" the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS or ISIL), despite its recent territorial advances, and said that the Obama administration is still not considering boots on the ground.

"This is very early days of the strategy. The strategy is very clear. We’ll do what we can from the air. We will support the Iraqi security forces, the Kurds, and ultimately over time, the moderate opposition in Syria to be able to control territory and take the fight to ISIL," Rice told NBC’s "Meet the Press."

"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. That has not come up the chain to anyone at the White House and I don’t anticipate that it will," Rice said. "The president has been very plain that this is not a campaign that requires, or even would benefit from, American ground troops in combat again."

Rice’s defense of the American strategy came as many question its effectiveness as the Islamic State makes advances in Anbar province, a region that neighbors Baghdad, and Kobani, a Kurdish town in northern Syria, despite weeks of US-led airstrikes.

While Rice insisted that there would not be any U.S. ground troops, or recommendations for them, statements by current and former military advisors suggested the comment was premature.

Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey pointed to Mosul as an instance where U.S. ground troops may be recommended.

ABC’s Martha Raddatz asked Dempsey, "Would we be more effective against ISIS if we had U.S. troops on the ground spotting targets?"

"Yeah. There will be circumstances when the answer to that question will likely be yes, but I haven’t encountered one right now," Dempsey said.

"Mosul will likely be the decisive battle in the ground campaign at some point in the future. When [the Iraqi Security Forces] are ready to go back on the offensive. My instinct at this point is that that will require a different kind of advising and assisting because of the complexity of that fight."

Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta seemed to broadly echo that sentiment on CBS’s "Face the Nation," and warned against taking options off the table.

"I’ve always felt that the President of the United States ought to keep every option available in dealing with this kind of enemy… I think you want to protect every possible option because we are dealing with a very resilient enemy and the only way you deal with a resilient enemy is with flexibility, adaptability, and the kind of determination that we’re going to need if we’re ever going to win this war."

The overall strategy will take time, Panetta noted, but airstrikes alone will not win the war against ISIS.

"These airstrikes can help to a degree, I think they’ve helped kind of stifle some of the momentum in ISIS, but to make these airstrikes work you’ve got to have information on targets and you’ve got to be able to pinpoint where the enemy location is and that, frankly, is going to take time."

"You’ve got to have boots on the ground," Panetta continued, "maybe it doesn’t have to be American boots on the ground, but you have got to have people on the ground who can identify targets and who can help us develop the kind of effective airstrikes that are going to be needed if we’re going to be able to undermine, destroy this vicious enemy that we’re dealing with."

Rice defended the air campaign, arguing that it was in the early stages, but "off to a strong start."

"Our efforts have various, different lines of effort, as we call them. On the one hand, we’re trying to build up the capacity of the Iraqis, which means the Iraqi army, the Kurds – the Peshmerga inside of Iraq… we’re building up that capacity and we have seen some success in that regard. On the Syrian side, we also have a longer-term challenge of supporting the moderate opposition, and giving them, while they have great will, greater capacity to fight Assad and to fight ISIL."

"So, this is going to take time," Rice continued. "Our air campaign is off to a strong start… it can’t be judged by merely what happens in one particular town or in one particular region."