U.S. Footprint in Iraq–Should It Grow?
By: Stephanie Sanok Kostro
General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently noted that Iraqi military operations to retake Ramadi—a critical Sunni city in Anbar province that fell to ISIS forces in May—were gaining momentum. He also reported that security conditions do not require additional U.S. forces, despite suggestions from Congress that up to 10,000 more U.S. troops are necessary to defeat ISIS in Iraq. General Dempsey is correct.
When thinking about whether the United States should send additional forces, it is important to understand the current U.S. strategy in Iraq. This strategy focuses on airstrikes, intelligence sharing, and training and equipping Iraqi forces, including government troops, Sunni fighters, and Kurdish pesh merga. Since last summer, the United States and its allies have reportedly conducted more than 5,000 airstrikes against ISIS. The United States has deployed some 3,500 military personnel—including advisers and intelligence officials—to work with Iraqi forces. In May, the United States also began to deliver rifles, trucks, antitank weapons, and other equipment from the $1.6 billion Iraq Train and Equip Fund that Congress approved last year. Earlier this month, Iraq took delivery of the first four of 36 F-16 fighter jets through Foreign Military Sales; this package includes training for Iraqi pilots as well as U.S. maintenance teams.
In light of this effort, what would 10,000 additional U.S. military personnel accomplish? Assuming that the United States has no desire to conduct ground combat operations itself, these additional forces would focus on training Iraqi troops. Yet coalition officials note that there is already excess training capacity. Only 9,700 Iraqis have participated in training, despite the coalition’s ability to train 24,000 troops per year, and coalition officials state the shortfall results from Iraq’s inability “to provide the trainees while constantly fighting” ISIS throughout the nation. Adding U.S. forces as trainers and advisers risks wasting resources.
Again, this assumes that the United States has no desire to conduct ground combat operations. If members of Congress continue to call for additional U.S troops to address the ISIS threat, they should be willing to discuss openly and frankly what the military—likely combat—missions would look like and what commitments this may create for future troop contributions in Iraq.