WASHINGTON, Nov. 13 (UPI) -- U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified Thursday before the House Armed Services Committee on the U.S. war against the Islamic State.
Hagel reiterated in his opening remarks that U.S. troops would not be engaged in combat. Dempsey, however, acknowledged that the administration is "considering" attaching U.S. military advisers to Iraqi "forces in Mosul and along the border." Any such expanded role for U.S. troops in Iraq would be "modest," Dempsey added.
Committee chairman Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif. challenged the president's policy of deploying U.S. soldiers in non-combat roles: "limiting our advisers to headquarters buildings will not help newly trained Iraqi and Syrian opposition forces hold terrain, much less defeat ISIL in the field. Yet the president has doubled down on his policy of 'no boots on the ground,' despite any advice you give him."
U.S. military efforts in Iraq have the support of the Iraqi and Kurdish governments, Hagel noted. In Syria, where the U.S. refuses to coordinate with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, there is no government partner.
"Alongside our efforts to isolate and sanction the Assad regime, our strategy is to strengthen the moderate opposition to the point where they can, first, defend and control their local areas; next, go on the offense and take back areas that have been lost to ISIL; and ultimately, as their capabilities and leverage develop, to create conditions for a political settlement in Syria."
Hagel urged Congress to approve a $5.6 billion funding request submitted by the president on Monday to counter IS.
The U.S. plans to train up to 80,000 Iraqi personnel. In Syria, Hagel estimated it would be between eight and 12 months until U.S.-trained and equipped moderate opposition fighters "begin making a difference on the ground."
Iraqi forces and Syria rebels are up against an IS group that is believed to be 30,000 strong, according to an intelligence community estimate. Of those, 18,000 are core fighters, said Dempsey. Approximately two-thirds of IS fighters are believed to be in Syria and the rest in Iraq.