By Michael Bowman – WASHINGTON—America’s top military commander says Islamic State (IS) militants are adapting to a U.S.-led air campaign, making targets in Iraq and Syria harder for coalition forces to identify and eliminate. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, spoke one day after U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel described the task of defeating the Islamic State group as “difficult” and “complicated.”
Fierce fighting continues in the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani, where militants posted video showing battles being waged street by street and house by house, trapping civilians and swelling the ranks of refugees. In Iraq, government troops continue to battle Sunni radicals outside Baghdad, where another wave of car bombs left a trail of human carnage.
But U.S. military commanders note IS advances on Baghdad and Irbil have been halted, even as militants display new cunning in hiding their positions and movements in response to coalition air strikes. This, according to Dempsey, makes the job more difficult but not impossible to tackle.
“The enemy adapts, and they will be harder to target. They know how to maneuver and to use populations and concealment. So, when we get a target, we will take it,” said Dempsey, speaking on ABC’s This Week program.
During a visit to Chile, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel acknowledged that it’s a dangerous endeavor but vowed that there will be no let-up in the coalition air campaign against IS, also known as ISIL.
“The effort to degrade and eventually destroy ISIL is a long-term effort. This is difficult, it is complicated. It will require many factors: coalition partners, a strong, stable, united Iraqi government, strong Syrian opposition forces, and it is going to take a while. It is not going to be fast. It is not going to be easy,” said Hagel.
A more dire assessment came from Republican Senator John McCain, who said Sunday the Islamic State “is winning.”
General Dempsey said he still does not see a need for U.S. combat troops in Iraq, but could envision benefits of U.S. forces accompanying Iraqi troops in future high-intensity missions, such as to recapture the Islamic State-controlled city of Mosul.