US Empowering Iraqi Tribes by Arm and Advisers


The Pentagon is considering ways to bring the Sunni Arab tribes of Iraq’s Anbar province more fully into the battle against the ISIS group, the top U.S. military officer said Thursday.
The United States needs to expand a limited advise-and-assist mission in Iraq into embattled Anbar province, where some Iraqi forces are isolated and in defensive positions against ISIS, the top U.S. military officer said on Thursday.But General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Iraq’s government must be ready to arm Sunni tribes as a precondition for getting outside advisers into the western Iraqi province.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, told reporters that expanding U.S. train-and-advise efforts to include the tribes is one of three key elements of a strategy designed to roll back IS fighters in northern and western Iraq.
The other elements are advising and assisting Iraqi government troops and creating so-called National Guard units as a sort of quasi-military force that must first gain legal approval from the Iraqi government.
“You need all three of those eventually,” Dempsey said. However, a condition for training and advising the tribes would be the willingness of the Iraqi government to arm them, he said.
The United States no longer is waging a ground war in Iraq but has about 1,400 troops there, with about 600 of them acting in advisory roles to the Iraqis, mostly from joint operations centers in Baghdad and Arbil. None are in Anbar.
Speaking alongside Dempsey, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel agreed that the tribes are an important component of the strategy.“The Sunni tribes are going to have to be part of this,” Hagel said.
Enlisting the help of Anbar’s tribes was critical to the U.S. in the latter stages of the Iraq war in 2007-2008.
Dempsey said the U.S. strategy’s first focus is on Iraqi government and Kurdish regional fighters. But the tribes could be an important complement to those.
“That’s what we’re now beginning to explore,” he said. “We’ve got a program in place where we’re beginning to restore some offensive capability and mindset to the Iraqi security forces. We need to think about how to do that with the tribes.”
ISIS was on the march in Anbar this year even before it seized much of northern Iraq in June. As the government and fighters from the autonomous Kurdish region have begun to recapture territory in the north, ISIS has pressed its advances in Anbar, coming ever closer to Baghdad.
Dempsey’s remarks were in response to questions about ISIS’s takeover last week of a Sunni Muslim village in Anbar, where the Albu Nimr tribe had been fending off ISIS since early October.
Iraqi security sources and witnesses said on Thursday ISIS militants executed at least 220 Iraqis in retaliation for the tribe’s opposition to their takeover.
And about Syria, Dempsey said when asked about progress in the administration’s project to train members of the so-called “Free Syrian Army”, “the process of recruiting and vetting candidate fighters has not yet begun.”
Some have questioned the viability of that project, for which Congress has approved spending $500 million to train up to 5,000 fighters.
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