Iraq's Probably Going to Need Help Taking Back Its Country

Hagel and Dempsey spoke to the media Thursday. Hagel and Dempsey spoke to the media Thursday. Defense Department

While initial U.S. assessments suggest that Iraq's security forces are able to defend Baghdad, what about taking back parts of the country that have been lost to insurgents?

Well, the Pentagon believes Iraq will likely need some help with that.

"I think that's a really broad, campaign-quality question. Probably not by themselves," said Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, when asked about the ability of Iraqi security forces to retake territory captured by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

The United States has roughly 650 troops in Iraq. It has also sent planes and ships into the region since the crisis began. ISIS, for its part, declared its territory in Iraq and Syria to be an Islamic state, but Dempsey said he believes their forces are currently stretched thin as they try to maintain their gains. 

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Thursday during the joint briefing that U.S. troops currently in Iraqaren't involved in combat missions—and won't be involved in combat missions. But Dempsey seemed to leave the door open, saying that "we may get to that point" when U.S. troops have direct military involvement in Iraq.

"That is one option, but one I personally don't think [is what] the situation demands," he added, stressing that the current U.S. strategy isn't the same as in 2003 and 2006—when the U.S. invaded Iraq and in the lead-up to the surge of U.S. troops, respectively.

In the meantime, the United States is still trying to get a full picture of what is going on in Iraq. Imagine trying to solve a Rubik's Cube without being able to see all of the sides.

Leading that effort is the Pentagon, which has six assessment teams in Iraq. It also has two joint operations centers there—one in Baghdad and a second in Erbil, a large city in northern Iraq.

And although the Pentagon's top duo are getting early assessments, Hagel said, we "won't have the full complement of all those assessments for a while.

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