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Sep 21, 2014 9:38 AM

US general: Arab nations needed in Iraq, Syria

The Associated Press

ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) The still-evolving military campaign plan to retake Iraqi territory held by the Islamic State group calls for attacking the extremists from several directions simultaneously, and its success depends on getting more Arab help, the top American military officer said Sunday.

"We want them to wake up every day realizing that they are being squeezed from multiple directions," Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters, referring to the Islamic State group, which also is known by the acronyms ISIL and ISIS.

"If we can get ISIL looking in about five different directions, that's the desired end state," he added in an interview with reporters traveling with him to Croatia from Lithuania, where he attended a NATO meeting.

Dempsey stressed the importance of gaining more Arab participation in the U.S.-led coalition. He called that a prerequisite for President Barack Obama's approval of the military campaign plan. Obama was briefed on the plan last week but has not yet okayed it.

Obama's signature on the plan would move the campaign into a new phase, Dempsey said, enabled by a larger number of coalition aircraft and improved prospects for rebuilding key elements of the Iraqi army.

Obama authorized U.S. airstrikes in Iraq on Aug. 8, and earlier this month he announced a broader effort linked to the formation of a more inclusive government in Baghdad. That plan includes the prospect of U.S. airstrikes in neighboring Syria, but Dempsey has said the Pentagon's first priority is pushing the military campaign in Iraq.

A number of Arab countries, including Jordan and Saudi Arabia, have said they support the U.S. effort but have not publicly committed to taking any offensive role in Iraq.

Having more Arab countries involved would make the Iraq campaign more sustainable and "more credible that is to say, this is not just about the United States; this is a regional and even an international issue," Dempsey said.

Over time, Iraqi security forces and Kurdish militia should be able to capitalize on coalition airstrikes by executing offensive ground operations to retake territory now under Islamic State group control, the general said. This already has begun with limited Iraqi advances in Babil province south of Baghdad, Dempsey said, where he said the extremists have been marshalling their forces.

Without mentioning specific provinces or towns, the U.S. in recent days has announced airstrikes on areas south of the Iraqi capital. On Saturday, for example, it said one strike southwest of Baghdad destroyed an Islamic State group boat ferrying supplies across the Euphrates River. And on Friday it said it hit a small Islamic State group ground unit southwest of Baghdad.


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