WASHINGTON — The U.S. is looking at ways to increase its aid to the Iraqi security forces, including help with ways to counter roadside bombs and buildings rigged to explode, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the top military officer, said Thursday.
But he said it's still unclear when the Iraqi troops will be ready to mount an offensive against Islamic State militants that have control of portions of northern and western Iraq. Speaking to reporters in his office, Dempsey said the U.S. will help with "some kind of broad counter-offensive" when Iraq is able to conduct the military assault and any needed reconstruction afterward.
Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke after meeting with Israeli military chief Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, for more than an hour.
"We're working with Iraq's military and civilian leaders to determine the pace at which we will encourage them and enable them to do a counteroffensive," Dempsey said. "So when the government of Iraq finds itself ready not only to conduct the military operations necessary to recapture their territory, but also to follow it with the humanitarian and reconstruction efforts, then they will, with us, initiate some kind of broad counteroffensive."
In the meantime, he said, the coalition has kept up "a drumbeat, a steady, building pressure" on Islamic State insurgents.
The U.S. has kept up a persistent bombing campaign against militant targets in Iraq and Syria, launching airstrikes on seven locations in Iraq on Wednesday.
Asked about Iran's military operations in Iraq, which have included airstrikes, Dempsey said Iraqi leaders have kept the U.S. informed about Iranian activities against IS. So far, he said, those operations haven't threatened U.S. troops or their mission. But, if that changes, he said the U.S. will adjust its military campaign plan.
"If it is a path that ties the two countries more closely together economically or even politically, as long at the Iraqi government remains committed to inclusivity of all the various groups inside the country, then I think Iranian influence will be positive," said Dempsey, adding that the U.S. is watching the relationship very carefully.
A key requirement for continued U.S. support is that Iraqi leaders work to make the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government more inclusive and beef up efforts to reach out to the Sunni tribes. The deep sectarian divide fueled the advances of the Islamic State militants across Iraq earlier this year as grievances led some to align with the extremists.
To date, Dempsey said that several hundred Sunni tribesmen have been brought into the Iraqi security forces. In addition, he said that several thousand new Iraqi troops have been trained, as U.S. training facilities in Irbil and Anbar Province get underway. Two other training locations are planned and should be operating in the coming weeks.
He said that officials have been looking at what more they could do to help the Iraqis, and are talking about improving their ability to find and destroy improvised explosive devices planted by insurgents. He said the U.S. wants to help the Iraqi's reduce their casualties.
Roadside bombs were one of the most deadly threats that faced U.S. and coalition troops fighting during the Iraq war.