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Pentagon Briefs Nation On ISIL Strikes

Arielle Samuelson |
September 26, 2014 | 2:27 p.m. PDT

Web Producer

As General Martin Dempsey and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel briefed the press Friday on the U.S. ISIL strategy, CNN was simultaneously airing live footage of a firefight between ISIL and Kurdish fighters on the border of Syria and Turkey.

The bulk of questions asked focused both on the ongoing firefight and the American military’s long-term strategy to combat ISIL.

Here's what the Pentagon had to say:

1) No, there is currently no U.S. aid going to the Syrian Kurds. There is also no plan for a Turkish buffer zone along the border.

"We're aware of what is going on.  We are discussing how and what we can do with our coalition partners to help them deal with it," said Hagel.

READ MORE: What We Know About Obama's Strategy To Destory ISIL

2) No, there haven’t been reported civilian casualties from U.S. air strikes.

Civilian casualties from air strikes were foremost on journalists’ minds after broadcast networks spent the summer months rolling footage of Palestinian civilian casualties from the Israel-Gaza conflict.  

“There are no reports of civ cas [civilian casualties] or collateral damage at this point in the campaign,” said Dempsey.  

Dempsey admitted that the U.S. military scans social media for such reports, “which is normally the first place you find out, frankly."

But the U.S. military can’t be everywhere, he added. “I know someone’s got an iPhone out there taking a picture of it, but that doesn’t mean that we’re anywhere nearby.” 

The general said he expected that “over time, ISIL will publish a few propaganda videos alleging civilian casualties.”

READ MORE: House Votes To Authorize Aid To Syrian Rebels In Fight Against ISIL

3) Yes, there needs to be a large ground force to counter ISIL, but we haven't reached that point.

“But it doesn’t have to be Americans. In fact, ideally... the only truly effective force... is a force comprised of Iraqis, Kurds, and moderate Syrian opposition…But we haven’t reached that point,” said Dempsey.

In the need for a united force, "there’s no military-alone solution or air power-alone solution," he said. Up to 15,000 troops would be needed to recapture lost ground in Syria, according to the general's estimation.

“Coalition” was the word of the day, with both leaders placing a close emphasis on the White House’s message of international cooperation.  “We’re working with the Iraqi military leaders to ensure that what occurs on the ground is their campaign, not our campaign,” said Dempsey.

READ MORE: Fighting Terrorism With Diplomacy Is A Bad Idea

But cooperation has a catch. Dempsey said that 20 years of the military's effort, including “education activities," means that the Syrian and Iraqi forces are “performing just as well as we are.” But the U.S. is still training 26 brigades, which are the only brigades assessed to be ready for such training.

“We have to do it right, not fast,” said Dempsey.  “They have to have military leaders that bind them together, they have to have a political structure into which they can hook, and therefore be responsive to. And that’s going to take some time.”

In answer to how long it will take to recapture lost ground, Dempsey replied, “How long will it take the new government of Iraq to convince the Sunni, Shia, and Kurds that the future should rest with them, not… along sectarian lines?”

Reach Web Producer Arielle Samuelson here.



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