Iraqi families, fleeing violence in the northern city of Tal Afar, gather Tuesday at the Kurdish checkpoint in Aski Kalak. (Safin Hamed / AFP via Getty Images)
HONOLULU — A key role of the American troops in Iraq is assessing whether the country’s security forces can hold together and whether its leaders are confident they can do their jobs, a top U.S. military official said Tuesday.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters after a speech that some of the 750 troops in Iraq are specifically there to help determine what the United States might do next to help Iraq fight an insurgency.
Some troops are manning a joint operations center with Iraqi security forces to give a better picture of how the situation is evolving, while others are visiting Iraqi units to answer some basic questions, Dempsey said.
“Will they hold? What’s their makeup? Are they still a force that represents all Iraqis?” Dempsey said, adding that they are also asking whether Iraq’s leaders are confident they can do their jobs.
“When we have that assessment in hand … we’ll make some decisions about whether there’s other kinds of support that we can provide,” he said.
The other role of the U.S. troop presence in Iraq is providing increased security at the U.S. Embassy and elsewhere in Baghdad, including the Baghdad International Airport.
Iraq has been seeking U.S. aid to help counter a threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, a Sunni-led insurgency in Iraq trying to create an Islamic state in the region. Baghdad’s top envoy to the United States said Tuesday that Iraq is turning to other governments like Russia, Iran and Syria for help because it can’t wait for more American military aid.
The U.S. assessment is happening at the same time as Iraq’s political leaders try to form a government, Dempsey said.
“Their ability to find political reconciliation among groups and to present an inclusive face to the people of Iraq who are counting on them to lead will be an important factor in determining what we do going forward,” he said.
Dempsey spoke with reporters after a speech that touched on the U.S. military rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific region. Many of the reporters were from Asia to cover the 22 countries participating in Rim of the Pacific naval exercises.
Dempsey also met earlier Tuesday with his counterparts from Japan and South Korea to talk about regional security and the latest provocations from North Korea. Dempsey said he and the other defense executives agreed to not publicly talk about their discussions.
“There’s a lot of change in the Pacific, and it was an opportunity for us to talk about those changes,” Dempsey said.