Though the United States must protect its people and is helping Iraq to face the threat posed by the extremist group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, it is up to Iraq to do the heavy lifting, a senior Defense Department official said today.
Elissa Slotkin, performing the duties of the principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that the United States has a vital national security interest to ensure Iraq and other countries don’t become safe havens for terrorists who could threaten the U.S. homeland, its citizens or interests abroad, or its partners and allies.
The immediate goals are to protect American people and property in Iraq, gain a better understanding of how the United States might train, advise and assist Iraqi security forces as necessary, and expand the nation’s understanding of ISIL intelligence, Slotkin said.
All three factors are critical, she said, to any future U.S. strategy involving Iraq, and the nation has three measures in the strategy:
- The United States added forces to protect its people in Iraq. “The safety of U.S. citizens and personnel throughout Iraq is our highest priority,” Slotkin said, adding that DoD is meeting all requests from the State Department for extra security for the U.S. Embassy and the airport.
- Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered the amphibious transport ship USS Mesa Verde into the Arabian Gulf. “Its presence adds to the other naval ships there, such as the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush and provides the president with additional options to protect American citizens and interests,” she said.
- Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets are part of the U.S. ramping-up effort. “We’ve significantly surged ISR capabilities into Iraq, [to] over 50 sorties a day, compared to one a month in previous months,” Slotkin added.
“We are now capable of around-the-clock coverage of Iraq, and have been focusing particularly on ISIL-controlled territory and around Baghdad,” she said.
The small teams of 300 U.S. military advisors in Iraq are assessing and evaluating how the United States might potentially help Iraqi security forces, Slotkin said.
Hagel and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, received the draft assessment from U.S. Central Command last week, she told the panel.
“Department leaders are taking a deliberate approach and reviewing this lengthy assessment,” Slotkin said, adding that the assessments will be used to make recommendations to the president.
“Additional assessment work continues in and around Baghdad with respect to the developing situation on the ground,” she added.