Rear Admiral John Kirby appeared at a joint press briefing with spokesperson Jen Psaki at the State Department Thursday and addressed the ongoing airstrikes against the Islamic State (ISIL) in Iraq and Syria. As a number of Pentagon officials have done in recent weeks, Admiral Kirby downplayed the impact that airstrikes alone can have on stopping ISIL, with particular emphasis on Kobani, Syria, which borders Turkey:
What makes Kobani significant is the fact that ISIL wants it. And the more they want it, the more forces and resources they apply to it, the more targets that are available for us to hit there. I said it yesterday, keep saying it: Kobani could still fall. Our military participation is from the air and the air only right now, and we’ve all been honest about the fact that air power alone is not going to be able to save any town in particular.
Kirby said that ISIL is likely to continue to gain territory in spite of the coalition air campaign, and that Kobani is not the only city likely to fall:
I think we’ve been pretty consistent about the fact that we need to all be prepared for other towns and other cities to fall too. This group wants ground. They want territory, they want infrastructure. We all need to be prepared for them to continue to try to grab that, and succeed in taking it.
The extra emphasis placed on strikes against ISIL forces around Kobani, Kirby said, is not only a matter of strategy, but also simply a matter of weather:
One of the reasons you’ve seen additional strikes in the last couple of days is because we haven’t been able to strike quite as much, quite as aggressively inside Iraq. There’s been terrible weather there, sandstorms this time of year. It’s made it very hard for us to get intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms up over to see what we’re trying to do in Iraq. So we’ve had resources available that we might not have otherwise had available to strike them there in Kobani.
Under persistent question from reporters at the briefing, Admiral Kirby used some colorful language to further explain what the overall strategy of the air campaign is and what it is not:
Airstrikes are dynamic, they’re exciting, you can count them, you can get great video of them. I understand the drama around airstrikes, but we’ve said (a) airstrikes alone are not going to do this, military power alone is not going to do this, and it’s going to take some time...
So this isn’t – I hate to use this phrase, but it’s not whack-a-mole. We’re not going after this – the idea isn’t to just put a warhead on a forehead every single day. The idea is to try to get at their ability to sustain themselves and to disrupt their strategy.
On the question of ground troops, the admiral made clear there are no plans for combat roles for U.S. forces in Iraq or Syria:
The commander-in-chief’s been pretty clear there’s not going to be a return to U.S. ground forces in a combat role in this effort. That said, we do have 12 advisor teams that are working with the Iraqi Security Forces at a very high level, brigade or division level, inside Iraq. They are not going out into the field. They are not accompanying Iraqi troops. They are simply offering advice and assistance at a headquarters level – seven in Baghdad and the other five are up near Erbil. I do not foresee any instance in which we would put ground troops inside Syria.