Departing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says the U.S. may have to put American troops back on the ground in Iraq to help that country n its fight against Islamic State.
"I think it may require a forward deployment of some of our troops,” Hagel as quoted telling CNN. "Not doing the fighting. Not doing the combat work that we did at one time for six years in Iraq ... But to help airstrike precision ... Those are things where we could continue support."
"It could be necessary," Hagel said. "It could be, but I'm not willing to say that it will be necessary."
Hagel told CNN that President Obama directed Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey and Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of U.S. Central Command, to let him know if they require additional military options in the fight in Iraq and Syria.
On Friday, Kurdish forces pushed back Islamic State fighters who launched an offensive on the northern Iraqi town of Kirkuk.
A senior Kurdish military commander, Brigadier General Shirko Fatih, and at least 25 of his soldiers were killed in the battle on Friday in one of the most aggressive ISIL attacks for months, officials told Al Jazeera.
"ISIL fighters took advantage of the fog and they launched their surprise attack, but we managed to defeat them," Mariwan Abdel Khaleg of the Peshmerga 17th Brigade told the news service.
"We are responsible for protecting Iraqi territory, inch by inch."
The casualties near oil-rich Kirkuk were a heavy setback for the Iraqi Kurds, who have been at the forefront of the battle against jihadist forces that captured a third of both Iraq and Syria in a blitz last year.