Carter:More Troops Won't Fix Iraq,Syria01/19 06:18
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Sending thousands more American troops into Iraq or Syria
in a bid to accelerate the defeat of the Islamic State group would push U.S.
allies to the exits, create more anti-U.S. resistance and give up the U.S.
military's key advantages, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said in an Associated
Speaking from his Pentagon office overlooking the Potomac River on
Wednesday, Carter said he favors looking for ways to speed up the counter-IS
campaign, which administration critics including the president-elect, Donald
Trump, have called slow-footed and overly cautious.
But he outlined numerous reasons why he believes strongly in the current
approach of letting local Iraqi and Syrian forces set the pace.
"If we were to take over the war in Iraq and Syria entirely ourselves, first
of all, in the near term it would be entirely by ourselves, because there is no
one else volunteering to do that," he said. "We could get past that. But
secondly, we would risk turning people who are currently inclined to resist
ISIL" or to join ranks with the coalition, "potentially into resisting us, and
that would increase the strength of the enemy."
Taking over the war also would amount to "fighting on the enemy's terms,
which is infantry fighting in towns in a foreign country," he said. While U.S.
troops can do that, it would not leverage the U.S. military's biggest
strengths, which are special operation forces, mobility, air power and
intelligence-gathering technologies --- "exquisite capabilities that no one
else has," he said --- to enable local troops to do the fighting and own the
So while he believes faster is better, "It's important that it be done in a
way that victory sticks." That was a reference to avoiding a repeat of the
disastrous events of 2014, when Islamic State militants swept into western and
northern Iraq from Syria and grabbed control of large swaths of territory as
the Iraqi army collapsed. The Obama administration was caught by surprise at
the hollowness of the Iraqi army, weakened by political and ethnic strife.
The AP interview was Carter's last as defense secretary. His designated
successor, retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, is expected to win easy Senate
confirmation shortly after Trump is inaugurated on Friday. Carter will step
down at noon on Friday.
At his confirmation hearing last week, Mattis gave only glimpses of his
thinking on Iraq and Syria. When asked how his recommended way forward there
would differ from the current approach, Mattis said, "You give it full
resourcing to get there as rapidly as possible, and I think it's getting there
as rapidly as possible is probably where it would differ from the current
administration, where it would be a more accelerated campaign from what the
president-elect has already called for."
Trump has not explained his plan for defeating the Islamic State militants
but has sometimes suggested he would send more troops.
The U.S. war against the Islamic State group, which began in 2014, the year
before Carter took office, became a major focus of his tenure, along with his
efforts to modernize the Pentagon's approach to recruiting and maintaining
talent. He has often said Obama was open to every suggestion for devoting more
resources to the war, short of committing large numbers of combat troops.
"Early on, we were very limited by the meager intelligence we had on ISIL,"
he said. "That limited how many bombs we could drop, because we didn't have
targets, it limited where we could conduct raids, where we could vector forces,
where we could try to create opposition to ISIL."
But as increasing amounts of territory have been recaptured in both Iraq and
Syria, and growing numbers of ISIL leaders have been taken off the battlefield,
the amount of useful intelligence has grown, he said.
"Even if you kill a guy, you get his phone and you learn something about
ISIL," he said, adding that as the military campaign achieves more successes,
"more and more people come over and volunteer information; that creates yet
more opportunities. So there's this virtuous circle, where the more you do, the
more you have opportunity to do even more."
Carter dismissed the idea that Obama has dragged his feet in Iraq or Syria.
"Everything we have been able to identify that would accelerate the defeat
of ISIL, we have done," he said. "We have not been, and we should not be, shy
about asking for more" authority or resources from the president to push the
military campaign harder. "I asked President Obama for more. I would encourage
Jim Mattis, if he sees opportunities to accelerate, to ask for more."