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U.S. General: Iraq Wants to Fight ISIS Like Sun Tzu, While 'We Are Disciples of Clausewitz'

The commander of U.S. forces in the fight against ISIS noted there’s a disconnect on how Iraqi forces view battle strategy versus the American view.

Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland, who leads the Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, told reporters Wednesday that “we are making good progress against the enemy and sometimes it’s hard to see because it’s incremental, but if you step back and take a look at how far we’ve come, it’s really pretty significant.”

“Most significantly and more recently, we’ve begun to really make some progress with our Iraqi security force partners in and around Ramadi,” MacFarland said. “And that really validates the strategy of training and equipping, advising and assisting our Iraqi security force partners, and although they have their own ways of doing things and it may not always be our way, it is, in the end, becoming increasingly effective as they push the enemy out of that very important city of Ramadi and begin to set the conditions to go back and take Mosul from the enemy as well.”

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, on a visit to Baghdad, told reporters yesterday that Iraq had not requested the support of American Apache helicopters in the fight to retake Ramadi from ISIS.

“They certainly might be taken up for a future engagement. And I am telling you that it’s not either General MacFarland’s judgment or the prime minister’s judgment that they’re needed right now for the completion of the fight in Ramadi. That does not mean that they wouldn’t — they won’t make a difference sometime in the future,” Carter said.

“And so, the offer of the United States when circumstances suggest it, and subject to — always to Iraqi approval, our willingness to do more, including the use of Apache helicopters. So that’s the situation.”

MacFarland said that if Iraq asked for Apaches “we could do that, and we’re prepared to do that.”

The general acknowledged that using the helicopters “could” hasten the defeat of ISIS.

“It’s going to depend on the situation as we move forward in the campaign. One of the things that we watch everyday is how are the Iraqis doing, you know, and do they need additional enablers. And if those enablers are required or appear to be required, then that’s a conversation that I have with the prime minister or the minister of defense, and then I message that back to my superiors in the United States,” he said.

“We’re prepared to do that and the government of Iraq knows we’re prepared to do it. And you know, right now, you’re asking me to speculate about a fight tomorrow or the next week or the next month and one thing I’ve learned in all my years of combat is, I’ll probably get it wrong if I try. So my answer to you is we’ll see and we’re prepared to say yes if requested.”

Carter also offered the Iraqis more U.S. troops in the advise-and-assist mission, which they turned down in addition to the Apaches. Some have speculated that Shiite Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is bowing to Iran pressure in refusing the U.S. offers.

But MacFarland, when asked if Iraq and the U.S. even see eye-to-eye on how to defeat ISIS, said it’s an ongoing “conversation” with Baghdad.

“We have a Western way of war and, you know, we are disciples of Clausewitz. They are more disciples of Sun Tzu and if anybody knows their military theorism, you know, you recognize that those two ways of war don’t always align perfectly,” the general said. “But we’re partners, so we talk it out and they adjust towards us sometimes and we adjust towards them.”

As far as the refused offers of additional support, “It’s kind of hard to inflict support on somebody, you know?”

“So, we try to provide support and like I said, the kind of support we provide has to be consistent with the way Iraqi security forces fight,” MacFarland continued, adding that they “very seldom” get an outright “no” from the Iraqis.

“The answer is usually let’s think about it and we’ll talk some more and maybe make some adjustments until we get to yes… You know, we’re looking at the things that Iraqis need to succeed. And this has to be an Iraqi victory at the end of the day, but they need a little bit of help.”