CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait — With U.S. help, Iraqi security forces have achieved a "new momentum" in their battle to regain territory lost this year to the Islamic State group, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Monday.
Speaking to reporters at this Army camp in northern Kuwait, which serves as a staging and logistics hub for U.S. military operations in the Middle East, Hagel offered an upbeat assessment of progress in Iraq since the U.S. began launching airstrikes against IS in August.
"It's given them some new momentum," he said.
Hagel said that the Islamic State group remains a formidable threat, not only to Iraq but also to neighboring Iran and other countries in the region. He repeated the U.S. government's policy of not coordinating military action in Iraq with Iran, but he also suggested that Iran has reason to be concerned about the long-term ambitions of the Islamic State.
"They are threatened by ISIL, just like every government in the Middle East is clearly threatened by ISIL," Hagel said, using an alternative acronym for the extremist group.
U.S. officials said last week that Iran had recently conducted airstrikes in the eastern Iraqi province of Diyala.
Hagel spent a short time touring a maintenance bay at Camp Buehring operated by soldiers of the 1st Armored Brigade of the 1st Infantry Division. The brigade is on a nine-month deployment in Kuwait as the rotating U.S. ground force that is on call for emergency duty anywhere in the Middle East. Hagel then fielded questions from several soldiers.
On this date in 2004, Camp Buehring was the site of a memorable visit by one of Hagel's predecessors, Donald H. Rumsfeld. In a similar setting, but in a far different circumstance, Rumsfeld was asked by a U.S. National Guard soldier from Tennessee why troops were being sent into battle in Iraq with vehicles equipped with inadequate armor and other protection.
Rumsfeld replied, "You go to the war with the Army you have, ... not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time." At that juncture, nearly two years after the March 2003 U.S. invasion, the exchange with Rumsfeld suggested how ill-prepared the U.S. was to wage a long ground war in Iraq.