Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno told CBS This Morning that sending as many as 150,000 troops to Iraq to crush ISIS would only end in futility without long-term cooperation from the Iraqi government.
Odierno is particularly qualified to discuss the prospect of success and failure in Iraq, given that he’s spent six years in the region. For two of those years, from 2008 to 2010, he served as head of all foreign troops, CS Monitor reports.
“We went in and fixed it once,” Odierno said, according to CBS, during a Thursday appearance. “It took us a while — it took us longer than we wanted it to — but we fixed it. The security was good, the economy was growing. We handed it off to them, and here we are three, four years later, and ISIS has been in control, has really had an impact on the security of the Iraqi people, and is now threatening the region in a much greater way.”
“I could put 150,000 soldiers on the ground and defeat ISIS? Yes. But then what?” he added. “A year later it would be right back to where we are today.”
The conclusion? The U.S. is powerless to solve the problem by itself without cooperation from Arabs.
Odierno’s reaction comes as a response to President Barack Obama’s decision to send off an additional 450 troops to train Sunnis, in an effort to retake Ramadi, which is under the control of the Islamic State. With 450 troops, the total number of U.S. personnel in Iraq would amount to 3,550, matching the size of an Army brigade.
The real problem, according to Odierno, is not simply defeating ISIS, but rather forging an integrated Iraq army and overcoming deep-rooted ethnic and religious conflict between Sunni, Shia and Kurdish fighters. Lack of a cohesive political and military structure, which incorporates the interests of all groups to create a stable environment, leaves Iraq immediately vulnerable to absolute chaos as soon as the U.S. downsizes and switches to a support role.
For now, there’s a Kurdish army in the north and a Shia army. Few Sunnis are involved. Even in Anbar province near the front lines, to where the latest set of U.S. troops will deploy, Iraqi Army rosters are inflated, as approximately 3,000 soldiers still listed have deserted.
“And so, what they’re trying to do is let’s get people closer to them, get them in to train them, make them part of the army,” Odierno said on Friday while on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey informed The New York Times that expansion will occur in Anbar, as well as other areas, to create “lily pad” structures in which U.S. troops train Iraqi fighters to attack ISIS.
Odierno insisted that the recent announcement isn’t a case of mission creep and stated that more U.S. personnel could arrive in the future, though ideally not to take over the fight against ISIS while Iraqis sit on the sidelines.
“They’ve got to do this; they’ve got to do it in the region. We’re willing to enable them to do it,” Odierno added.