Although President Obama has been unequivocal that US forces will not return to Iraq for "boots on the ground" combat, some in his administration (Gen. Martin Dempsey, John Kerry, Joe Biden) have dropped hints that future events may change that. Friday, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno joined the chorus, telling the Defense Writers Group, according to the Army News Service (ANS), that "all options are open. 'I never rule anything out,' he added."
Odierno also said that while air strikes have proved effective in the short term in slowing ISIL's gains, concern about civilians casualties will blunt their effectiveness down the road. He added that the military will be carefully "vetting" the anti-ISIL forces that are due to receive training and support, including weapons, to make sure "they are who they [say they] are and won't be part of some extremist group."
For the present, however, the ground forces will come from local nations, according to the ANS report:
"Airstrikes have slowed the advances of ISIL. But airstrikes alone won't defeat ISIL," Odierno cautioned. "You need a complementary ground capability that will go in and do that."
These boots on the ground will be moderates in Syria and Iraq, as well as troops from other Arab nations who would like to assist, he said, adding that the U.S. will train, equip and advise them as needed.
"We all agree with the current strategy we're executing," he said, referring to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the president. "We've got to give this time to work. It's important they're the ones who will defeat ISIL."
Odierno added that as is the case in any operation, assessments will continue to be made as events unfold, and that with input from his commanders, he will continue to provide the chairman and the president with candid advice.
All options are open, he said. "I never rule anything out," he added.