Former Top US General In Iraq Says Beating ISIS Would Require 50,000 Troops

Russ Read | Pentagon/Foreign Policy Reporter

Retired Army Gen. Ray Odierno believes it will take around 50,000 troops to destroy Islamic State, and as the former commander of U.S. forces in Iraq for several years during the wave and occupation, he knows what it takes to fight terrorism.

Odierno’s mental prowess matches his immense physical stature. When he walks into a room, he is hard to miss, but it is when he sits down and discusses the security challenges facing the U.S. that he becomes particularly engaging. Though he retired in 2015 after nearly 40 years of military service, Odierno is still willing to offer his expertise on the ISIS challenge.

The predominant question asked to every defense official or analyst is how many U.S. troops it will take to destroy ISIS. Odierno was asked the same question Wednesday while accepting an award at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy’s Washington Forum. It was one of the first he was asked just moments after receiving his award.

“Probably around 50,000,” said Odierno. The general did note these troops would not all have to be American, but they certainly need to be led by the U.S. on the military front.

Though the troop number question was predominant, it was not the only advice that Odierno offered the crowd, he also expressed significant concern over U.S. military readiness.

“We lost capability,” said Odierno, commenting on the recent budgetary cuts in military spending. “I think I am concerned.”

Odierno noted the current security situation is unique. Unlike the Cold War, where the enemy was clear, the current threat is as mysterious as it is international. Because U.S. enemies could be in any place at any time across the globe, Odierno believes the U.S. military needs to have the capability to go where it must to counter those threats. In his opinion, the U.S. is losing that capability.

“We have to add a bit more money back in the budget,” said Odierno, not necessarily to expand military forces, but to maintain training and equipment so troops can operate effectively. Without the proper funding, Odierno is concerned U.S. military personnel could be unprepared.

Of course, Odierno believes the fight against ISIS goes beyond money and manpower, and even the military itself. Indeed, he said without military, political and economic strategies working in tandem, there will be no permanent solution.

Odierno’s comments come at a precarious time for the fight against ISIS. While significant gains have been made against the terrorist group in key areas like Ramadi, Iraq and Shadadi, in Syria, there are serious concerns the coalition force is losing momentum.

Speaking at the same conference just before Odierno, two high-ranking ministers from the Kurdish Regional Government warned they have not been able to pay their Peshmerga troops for months. The Peshmerga have played a key role in the coalition fighting ISIS in the northern reaches of Iraq. To make matters worse, the Kurdish warning follows news that Iraqi Security Forces have stalled in the fight for the areas around Mosul due to desertion, while the entire force has been spread dangerously thin across the entire country.

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