The Pentagon said Wednesday the authorization to use military force President Obama submitted to Congress is written to give the administration “flexibility” in fighting the Islamic State militant group.
In an interview with Fusion’s Jorge Ramos, Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said there are no plans for a large-scale ground war against Islamic State forces but the authorization does not rule out the use of ground forces in limited operations.
“What the president is seeking in this new authorization for use of military force is some measure of flexibility,” Kirby said. “This particular document is aimed at helping the United States military have the flexibility to go after ISIL.”
Some Democratic lawmakers have objected to vague language in the authorization pertaining to the role of U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria, fearing that it could allow for a repeat of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Kirby said that Obama has “made it clear that there is not going to be a return to ground combat by U.S. troops in Iraq or in Syria.” There are currently around 3,000 U.S. troops in Iraq who mostly serve in an advisory role.
“We have a small, limited number of U.S. troops in Iraq that are largely committed to helping train, advise, and assist Iraqi troops as they put the pressure on ISIL on the ground,” Kirby said. “We believe that indigenous ground forces are the best ground forces to use in a campaign like this.”
The U.S. and allied nations have led airstrikes against Islamic State positions since last summer. Kirby said there are no plans for the U.S. to shift its current strategy.
“The strategy that we are executing does not call for, does not need and we’re not at the point where we’re willing to recommend a change to having no troops on the ground in a combat role,” he said.
Despite the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and concerns about the fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan, Kirby judged both wars to be successful.
“We succeeded in both missions,” he said.
When combat operations in Iraq ended in 2011, the U.S. left the country with a “competent and capable” military, Kirby said. But former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki let the security forces languish and unable to defend Iraq against the Islamic State.
“Now the threat has evolved,” he said. “ISIL was not a factor in 2011, but what really happened over the past three years was that the Maliki government ignored their military.”
Kirby praised the Afghan National Security Forces as “quite good and quite capable” and said the U.S. has a strong relationship with new President Ashraf Ghani.
“We just changed to a new mission there, a new mission that is designed to train, advise and assist the Afghan National Security Forces as they continue to take the lead for security inside their country,” said Kirby.