'Lily pad' strategy Obama mulls network of bases in Iraq
The expanded footprint for U.S. troops in Anbar province was part of a strategy to set up a series of "lily pad" operations centers to enable the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) to push back ISIS and eventually retake Mosul, according to Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey.
"Our campaign is built on establishing these 'lily pads' that allow us to encourage the Iraqi security forces forward," Dempsey said Thursday.
"As they go forward, they may exceed the reach of the particular lily pad. We're looking all the time to see if additional sites might be necessary," Dempsey said in Naples, Italy, on a trip that also took him to Israel.
Dempsey spoke after the White House and the Pentagon announced Wednesday that 450 more U.S. troops would be going to Iraq and would be deployed at Iraq's Taqaddum military base in eastern Anbar, which sits between the ISIS strongholds of Ramadi and Fallujah.
As envisioned by Dempsey, Taqaddum would be the first of the "lily pads." The White House stressed the training aspect of the Taqaddum deployment but Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren said the main purpose was two-fold – advising Iraq's 8th Army division and serving as a recruiting magnet to bring Sunni tribal fighters into the campaign alongside the ISF.
Dempsey said the Taqaddum deployment was "an adjustment that is significant, in that it gives us access to another Iraqi division and extends their reach into al Anbar province and gives us access to more tribes."
Dempsey also warned against expecting quick results.
"This campaign is building partners who are taking responsibility for their own security enabled by us -- not us driving the Iraqi government at a pace they can't sustain," Dempsey said.
He did not address the question of whether more U.S. troops would be needed to implement the strategy. In a conference call Wednesday, White House and Pentagon officials left open the possibility that more troops might be needed.
When the additional 450 troops arrive, the U.S. will have 3,550 in Iraq, said Elissa Slotkin, the assistant Defense secretary for international security affairs.
"So we think we have the right numbers," but "we will always relook at those numbers and make our best recommendations when we have them, if it is to increase," Slotkin said.