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US forces may support Iraqi troops as challenges mount

“We’re certainly considering it,' top US general says

The U.S.-led effort to combat ISIL may require U.S. forces to fight along their Iraqi counterparts as they become engaged in more complex missions, the top U.S. general said Thursday.

Testifying before the House Armed Service committee, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin Dempsey outlined future scenarios that would warrant the U.S. reconsidering its policy to combat ISIL.

Dempsey said that while Iraqi forces have shown signs of improvement, “and I think soon we will be able to describe it as a good job,” future efforts may require additional U.S. support. Those tasks include the eventual consolidation of control over Iraq’s second city, Mosul, and securing the Iraq-Syria border.

“I’m not predicting at this point that I would recommend that those forces in Mosul and along the border would need to be accompanied by U.S. forces but we’re certainly considering it,” Dempsey said.

ISIL seized control of Mosul in June.

Dempsey added that U.S. forces in the country have established a “modest footprint,” and “any expansion of that, I’d think, would be equally modest. I just don’t foresee a circumstance when it would be in our interest to take this fight on ourselves with a large military contingent.”

Hagel said that “more than a dozen” coalition partners have said that they would be willing to send trainers and advisers to help build up Iraqi forces.

President Barack Obama has remained adamant that U.S. forces will not assume a combat role in operations to destroy ISIL.

Core underlying assumptions are currently guiding the U.S. mission against ISIL, Dempsey said. Key among those is that the Iraqi central government will be able to convince the country’s communities that it is committed to governing inclusively.

Should the Iraqi government fail to achieve unity, the U.S. will have to pursue other partners in the fight against ISIL, Dempsey said.

“We absolutely need a credible partner to provide ground forces in that region so that we don’t have to provide the ground combat power to accomplish the task,” he said.

Even as questions loom over the coalition’s efforts in Iraq, Hagel told lawmakers that U.S. preparations for a train and equip mission for moderate members of the Syrian opposition are complete.

Development of training sites in Turkey and Saudi Arabia, as well as “recruiting and vetting will begin when Congress has authorized the actual funding, but we are still moving forward, doing what we must do to prepare for that vetting process and that training,” he said.

Congressional authorization for the mission will have to be renewed before it expires on Dec. 11.

Hagel added that without a partner government or military forces in Syria, U.S. military efforts in the country in the near-term “are limited to isolating and destroying ISIL’s safe havens.”

Hagel and Dempsey’s testimonies come nearly a week after the administration requested $5.6 billion in additional funding from Congress to combat the terror group in Syria and Iraq.

Hagel said the additional funding will be “critical” in helping Iraqi security forces, including Kurdish and tribal forces, go on the offensive in 2015.

Obama authorized military action against ISIL in Iraq and Syria in August. Part of that strategy has been to eliminate the group’s revenue streams, chief among them its oil smuggling network.

In separate testimony Thursday, David Cohen, the Treasury Department’s chief counter-terrorism financing official, told lawmakers that ISIL's revenue from its oil networks has decreased from earlier estimates of a $1 million per day, to several million a week.

"There's some progress there," he told the House Financial Service Committee. "I do think that the strategy that we're employing will impair ISIL's access to funding. It will impair their ability to use the funding that they have. And we will see a real impact on ISIL as a result."

That could be pivotal in the coalition’s campaign as Cohen said that currently the Treasury Department estimates that ISIL pays its 30,000 fighters roughly $1,000 dollars per month, totaling some $360 million per year. Still, he said that those estimates are "soft," "but it gives you sort of an idea of the magnitude of the expenses."

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