Despite ISIS’s continued ability to hold and control vast swaths of Iraq and Syria, top Pentagon officials are confident that the U.S. program of training and equipping forces in those countries will help defeat the terror group.
“That is the strategy that will both provide for the victory over ISIL or the defeat of ISIL,” Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told reporters Wednesday. “And then, secondly, and this is very important, for that defeat to stick and endure.”
To date, there have been over 10,000 Iraqi security forces that have gone through training at various sites across Iraq, including 500 Sunni tribal elements in the western province of Anbar, where Iraqi security forces lost the key city of Ramadi in May.
That number pales in comparison to the fewer than 100 moderate forces that have been trained in Syria, despite a goal of getting 3,000 to 5,000 thousand forces trained over three years.
Pentagon officials have acknowledged to CNN that they have encountered significant obstacles in recruiting the right types of fighters there.
“At the end of the day, we need credible, moderate partners on the ground,” Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey said at the same briefing regarding the train and equip program in Syria. “We certainly won’t take any shortcuts on vetting, however, because of the risk that would pose not only to our own forces, but to the ultimate objectives we are trying to achieve.”
Dempsey said it was possible that more forces would join the training after the holy month of Ramadan, when many people are with their families.
While ISIS remains on the offensive in many parts of Syria, Carter credited the efforts of Kurdish forces in the north of the country, along with Syrian opposition groups in the South, in gaining back territory while the U.S.-led coalition continues daily airstrikes against ISIS positions.
Meanwhile, with negotiations continuing in Vienna over curbing Iran’s nuclear program, the United States military remains positioned to carry out a strike against Tehran’s nuclear infrastructure if so ordered.
“We continue to have the tools to do that and continue to maintain the military option,” Carter said, while sounding a note of caution about the effectiveness of any possible military operation against the Iranian program.
“A military strike of that kind is a setback, but it doesn’t prevent the reconstitution over time,” he added.
When it comes to the historic resumption of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba, Carter said there was “no anticipation and no plan” to hand over the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay to the Cuban government.