US pushes other countries for special operators in Islamic State fight
By CHRIS CHURCH | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 8, 2015
MANAMA, Bahrain — Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford said Monday that special operators from other countries may be joining in the fight against the Islamic State group.
“Although I can’t talk to you about the countries right now, because we are still in the process of discussing with them, we have a number of other countries that we are working with right now to provide additional special operations in Syria and Iraq,” Dunford said at a stop in Bahrain during a USO tour of U.S. installations in several countries.
Servicemembers he’s met along the way recognize the nature of the threat and have expressed their eagerness to do battle, he said.
“I had dinner with two sailors and about six Marines from FAST Company, and what they wanted to know is when do we need them to get in the fight,” Dunford said. “They say, ‘Hey sir, what do you need us to do? We are ready to do it.’”
Dunford told Stars and Stripes in an interview Monday he’s heard the same motivation from service members in Sigonella and Djibouti before his trip to Bahrain.
Last week the Pentagon announced plans to send to Iraq a new special forces unit of 100 men to fight the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS or ISIL. Soon after that announcement, Germany’s parliament — responding to France’s request for support in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris — voted to send reconnaissance planes, a frigate and fueling capacity to the Middle East.
Dunford said the U.S. has received encouraging responses from regional allies regarding the deployment of forces to fight the Islamic State but is waiting to see actual boots on the ground.
“It didn’t take Paris for us as Americans to recognize the nature of the threat, or many others, in fairness,” Dunford said. “But if anyone in the wake of Paris doesn’t think it’s their problem, they aren’t thinking hard enough.”
Though the 28-nation NATO alliance said it will not provide ground troops, the coalition against the Islamic State already involves special operations contributions from individual NATO member states and may have more in the future, Dunford said.
The 60-plus member coalition has seen an increase in contributions in the wake of Paris from a number of countries, including Italy, Germany, France and, most recently, the United Kingdom.
However, the U.S. is still pushing for more involvement from regional allies, Dunford said. The U.S. has written letters to several countries identifying how they could contribute to the campaign, especially in the wake of the Paris terrorist attack.
Over the past week, the Iraqi government, including Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, has said the country doesn’t need additional foreign ground combat troops, but Dunford said everything the U.S. is doing is in conjunction with the Iraqi government.
“When Prime Minister Abadi made that statement, he was really talking about large formations of U.S. combat forces and was not referring to special operations forces or other unique capabilities that the Iraqis have actually asked us for and we’ll support,” he said.
Dunford also said he’ll continue to make recommendations he believes will advance the momentum of the campaign, including increasing unique U.S. capabilities and special operators.
“At the end of the day, while it’s going to take a coalition to defeat ISIL, and while many nations have to deal with this issue, it’s also a threat to the homeland, to the United States,” Dunford said. “So we have significant interest in making sure that we defeat ISIL.”
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford has dinner with service members at Naval Support Activity Bahrain Dec. 7, 2015. Dunford is currently traveling to several countries across three continents as part of a USO tour to thank sailors for their service during the holidays.
CHRIS CHURCH/STARS AND STRIPES