Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey said Thursday that the U.S. military strategy in Iraq could require opening multiple bases near the front lines of battle, which would mean sending hundreds of additional troops to the region to help fight ISIS.
Dempsey told reporters aboard a plane with him in Italy that the plan the White House announced earlier this week to establish a base at Taqaddam could be replicated in other parts of Iraq. He said they are considering bases that he described as “lily pads” near the front lines that would support Iraqi troops.
The White House announced Wednesday plans to deploy up to 450 additional U.S. forces to Iraq, largely to train Sunni tribes’ fighters, as well as plans to send weapons to Sunni tribes and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters to help them combat ISIS. Officials are considering sending up to 1,000 troops to the area, according to the Associated Press.
A senior defense official told CNN on Thursday that three to four additional sites in Iraq are most likely to be the next locations, if military commanders make the case to the White House they are needed. The official said one advantage of the “lily pads” is, by having US troops closer to areas of combat, US personnel could also be used in specific circumstances to help get airstrikes on targets more quickly.
Pentagon spokesman, Col. Steve Warren took it a step further, saying military planners are “actively” looking at more lily pad sites, which, if approved, could mean hundreds of additional troops, if they can’t redirect troops already in Iraq.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest, meanwhile, downplayed Dempsey’s comments, saying the plans were “all very hypothetical.”
The decision to expand the U.S. military presence in Iraq comes as the Obama administration is facing increased criticism of its handling of ISIS, after the terrorist group seized control of a key Iraqi city last month. Those critics grew louder this week after Obama acknowledged during closing remarks at the G7 conference in Germany this week that the U.S. strategy in Iraq is still murky.
“We don’t yet have a complete strategy because it requires commitments on the part of the Iraqis,” he said.
Republicans derided his comments, with House Speaker John Boehner tweeting an emoticon of a person shrugging (“¯\_(ツ)_/¯ “) as a shorter summary of Obama’s strategy.