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Odierno: 50,000 Troops Needed To Defeat the Islamic State

Retired Army Gen. Ray Odierno says 50,000 troops are needed to defeat the Islamic State.

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It will take around 50,000 troops to destroy the Islamic State, according to the Army’s recently retired chief, but they don’t necessarily all have to be American.

That’s the assessment retired Army Gen. Ray Odierno gave Wednesday at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy’s Washington Forum. He added that U.S. troops would have to direct these forces.

Odierno has said ground forces are needed to defeat the extremists, although this appears to be the first time he suggested 50,000 troops would be enough to do the job. In August 2015, in his final news conference as the Army’s chief of staff, he said: “If we find in the next several months we’re not making the progress that we have, we should probably absolutely consider embedding some soldiers and see if that will make a difference. It’s an option we should present to the president when the time is right.”

And last December, Odierno said the Islamic State could not be defeated without “people on the ground.”

Odierno commanded all U.S. forces in Iraq from 2008 to 2010 and watched the number of American troops there dwindle from over 100,000 to 50,000. Last year, the White House sent 450 military advisors to train and assist Iraqi forces battling the Islamic State. There are about 5,000 American troops in Iraq.

Where the new forces Odierno cited Wednesday would come from is far from clear. In February, Anwar Gargash, minister of state for foreign affairs for the United Arab Emirates, said his country would be willing to contribute, but with tight limits. “We are not talking about 1,000 troops, but we are talking about troops on the ground that will lead the way, that will train, that will support,” he said.

Saudi Arabia has also pledged to send troops, but has not specified how many it is willing to commit. Turkey has soldiers fighting in Iraq.

U.S. intelligence reports estimate there are 19,000 to 25,000 Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria, down from 20,000 to 31,000 last year. The Pentagon believes U.S. airstrikes have killed 25,000 Islamic State fighters since the American bombing campaign started in August 2014.

Odierno’s comments come as the Pentagon described the fight against the Islamic State as entering its second phase.

“Our enemy has been weakened, and we are now working to fracture,” Col. Steve Warren, the spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition fighting the terrorist group, told reporters Wednesday. “Phase 1 of the military campaign is complete, and we are now in phase 2, which is to dismantle this enemy.”

“We believe that by degrading them in phase 1 and then dismantling them in phase 2, we believe that that will set us up for phase 3, which, of course, is the ultimate defeat of this enemy,” he added.

Photo credit: MARK WILSON/Getty Images

David Francis was a senior reporter for Foreign Policy, where he covered international finance. @davidcfrancis

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