“We didn’t lose anything,” he said. “We turned a pretty significant situation over to the Iraqi people when we phased out of our military involvement in Iraq. We have done everything we could to help them,but it’s up to the Iraqis.”
Gen. Martin Dempsey,chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,echoed Hagel’s sentiments. Dempsey said he is bitterly disappointed in the Iraqi government’s lack of leadership and its failure to create a unified government following major U.S. troop withdrawal in 2011.
The two top Defense Department officials were scheduled to testify about the agency’s 2015 budget before the defense subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee,but the discussion quickly turned to current events.
A year ago,Dempsey met with Iraqi leaders and advised them to use the U.S. departure to unite their government and people – advice he said was ignored by leaders,including Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Iraq is not in active conflict with the U.S.,so future military action to intervene will be based on resources available,Dempsey said. So far,Iraq has requested air power from the U.S. and a few contingency forces are in and around Baghdad,mainly to protect the U.S embassy.
Funding for Iraqi operations would come from the Overseas Contingency Operations fund,but no request has been made to Congress to shift money to aid the country.
President Barack Obama met with national leadership on Wednesday for a briefing on ISIS’s presence in Iraq,but Sen. Dan Coats,R-Ind.,said it is too late to meet about stopping the militants.
“The territories have already been lost. The cities have already been taken. The weapons – U.S. weapons – have already been seized,” Coats said at the hearing. He did not attend the White House meeting.
Intervening in Iraq again could also mean picking up ties with Iran. The U.S. military worked with the Iranian forces when U.S. troops entered western Afghanistan in late 2001,and future collaboration is possible with the stability of Iraq acting as a common interest,Hagel said.
Concern is also turning to the security of Afghanistan,another neighbor of Iran.
U.S. combat operations in Afghanistan are ending this year. Obama announced in late May that if the Afghan government signs a security agreement,the U.S. military presence will be scaled down to typical embassy security size by the end of 2016.
Afghanistan and Iraq are hardly comparable,internally,ethnically or historically,Hagel said.
Dempsey told the committee that the Afghans have better prospects of creating a unified government. He also said they are more tenacious fighters than their Iraqi counterparts and the chances of Iraq’s situation repeating itself in Afghanistan are low.
Sen. Lindsey Graham,R-S.C.,remained skeptical of Afghanistan’s transition,especially if ISIS gains control of the Sunni-dominated area from Aleppo,Syria,to Baghdad. He said if the Islamic militant group is not stopped immediately,the next 9/11 could come from this region.
Dempsey said that,while efforts are being made to eliminate ISIS,it is a regional threat even though it has aspirations to attack the U.S. A more salient threat to national security is a branch of Al-Qaeda positioned in Yemen,he said.
Reach reporter Megan Card at [email protected] or 202-326-9868. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.