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Dempsey says battle with Islamic State starting to turn - Reuters

Dempsey says battle with Islamic State starting to turn - Reuters



BAGHDAD Sat Nov 15, 2014
11:26am EST

1 of 4. Iraq's Defence Minister Khaled al-Obeidi (L)
meets with U.S. Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of
Staff, at the defence ministry in Baghdad November 15, 2014.


Credit: Reuters/Stringer
BAGHDAD
(Reuters) - The United States' top military officer told American troops on a
surprise visit to Baghdad on Saturday that the momentum in the battle with
Islamic State was "starting to turn", but predicted a drawn-out campaign lasting
several years.


General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was visiting
Iraq for the first time since President Barack Obama responded to Islamic State
advances this summer by ordering troops back into a country they left in 2011.


Hours earlier, an Iraqi army colonel said security forces appeared close to
retaking the country's biggest refinery at Baiji, which has been under siege for
months by Islamic State militants.

Obama last week authorized roughly doubling the number of American ground
forces as the military expands the reach of its advisers after slowing the
militants' advances with U.S. air strikes.

Dempsey told the troops the U.S. military had helped Iraqi and Kurdish forces
"pull Iraq back from the precipice".

"And now, I think it's starting to turn. So well done," Dempsey told a group
of Marines at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. Reuters accompanied him on the trip.


Islamic State has captured swathes of territory in both Iraq and Syria, where
the United States is also conducting air strikes with its allies in pursuit of
Obama's declared objective to "degrade and destroy" the militants.

CHALLENGES REMAIN

Dempsey said it had been crucial to show Islamic State was not an
unstoppable, 10-foot-tall force and instead "a bunch of midgets running around
with a really radical ideology".

He was hardly triumphant, however. Earlier, he visited a Joint Operations
Center and watched a live video feed of a location showing the Islamic State's
black flag waving.

Thirty-six people were kidnapped by Islamic State in western Iraq on
Saturday, security sources said, members of the same tribe massacred in the
hundreds by the group recently.

Dempsey repeatedly made the point that military force could not root out
Islamic State unless Iraq's government manages to work across the Sunni-Shi'ite
divide.

Building trust would take time. So would the U.S. mission, he said.

"How long? Several years," said Dempsey.

Dempsey, who also met top Iraqi officials, told Reuters he wanted to find out
whether the Iraqis believed they could win recruits for a program the United
States hopes to get under way next year to re-train Iraqi units.

"I want to get a sense from them on whether they believe our timeline is
feasible," Dempsey said.

About 1,400 U.S. troops are now in Iraq. Obama's new authorization allows for
deployment of up to 3,100.

After meeting senior Iraqi officials in Baghdad including Prime Minister
Haider al-Abadi, Dempsey traveled to Arbil. capital of the Kurdistan
semi-autonomous region in the north. U.S. troops will also train Kurdish forces.
























(Editing by Michael Georgy, Sonya
Hepinstall
and Mark
Trevelyan
)
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