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Carter: There Aren’t Enough Good Iraqi Recruits to Train to Fight the Islamic State

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter admitted U.S. efforts to train Iraqi troops are falling far too short.


Training Iraqis to fight the Islamic State represents a cornerstone of the U.S. strategy to defeat the group. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told Congress Wednesday the Pentagon is falling woefully short in that regard.

“Of the 24,000 Iraqi security forces we had originally envisioned training at our four sites by this fall, we’ve only received enough recruits to be able to train about 7,000, in addition to about 2,000 counterterrorism service personnel,” Carter told the House Armed Services Committee. “As I’ve told Iraqi leaders, while the United States is open to supporting Iraq more than we already are, we must see a greater commitment from all parts of the Iraqi government.”

While President Barack Obama has called for Iraqis to be trained more quickly, without adequate recruits any efforts to speed up the process would be useless. According to Carter’s estimates, the DoD believes less than one third of the troops needed to beat back the Islamic State have volunteered to fight against it. At one training site where several hundred U.S. troops are stationed, the al-Asad air base, there have been no Iraqi trainees for weeks.

Carter’s testimony was the most public acknowledgement that efforts to train Iraqi troops are not going to plan. He also admitted some Iraqi troops aren’t up to the fight and abandon their posts when faced with adversity. And the failure to get Iraqi troops battle-ready has been on full display in recent weeks.

Last month, Islamic State fighters took Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, despite being outnumbered by Iraqi troops more than 10 to 1. Carter, who appeared alongside the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, called the loss of the city “deeply disappointing.”

Carter said the city’s fall prompted a rethink of U.S. strategy to train Iraqi troops and was directly responsible for the decision to send an additional 450 American troops to Iraq. The United States is currently conducting airstrikes to support Iraqi troops in their ground fight against the group. Right now, some 3,000 American troops are in Iraq but aren’t engaged in combat and are there only in an advisory role.

Dempsey dismissed suggestions that American troops in combat roles would be sufficient to defeat the Islamic State.

“Military power alone will not solve this,” he said. “Could we go in there and do a better job … ? Absolutely. But we’d be back there in two years.”

“This has to be them,” Dempsey added, referring to Iraqi troops. “If you’re asking if the United States is winning, that’s the wrong question.”

Photo credit: Jim Watson/Getty Images