The White House was calling the sack of Ramadi last week a “setback” in the war against ISIS, and got roundly criticized by some lawmakers on Capitol Hill for downplaying the ISIS victory.
Today, it was still a setback — just with a few qualifiers.
“I think there are a variety of contributors to what happened in Ramadi,” press secretary Josh Earnest said when asked about Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s contention that the Iraqi army showed no “will to fight” and essentially ran from Ramadi. “The first is that there — the Iraqi security forces, who were fighting in Ramadi, and have been fighting in Ramadi for a year and a half, didn’t have the benefit of the training of the United States and our coalition partners. There were clearly, as the Iraqis have indicated, some military command and planning problems that occurred. And we saw a pretty effective tactic used by ISIL. And all of that led to a not unsubstantial setback in Ramadi.”
The lack of “will to fight,” Earnest said, “certainly has been a problem that we’ve see in the past.”
“That’s what allowed ISIL to make such significant gains last summer. And so what the United States and our coalition has been focused on is making sure that we can enhance the capacity of the Iraqi security forces and supporting the Iraqi central government as they try to unite that country and build a multisectarian security force to face the threat that they — that is posed by ISIL,” he said.
The U.S. is trying to shut down the flow of foreign fighters and funding to Iraq, but taking the fight to ISIS within Iraq, Earnest added, is “not the something that the United States is willing to do for the Iraqi people.”
“And the Iraqi central government, Prime Minister Abadi, has made crystal clear on a number of occasions he doesn’t want anybody to step in and do this for them,” he said. “He’s prepared to unite that country, to bring that country together, and to mobilize a multi-sectarian security force to face down the security threat in his country. And that’s what the United States and our coalition partners stand ready to do.”
Still, Earnest insisted that the administration is “pleased with the progress that’s been made” against ISIS.
“There are going to be days of progress and there are going to be periods of setback… the sophistication and capability of some of these ISIL forces is not particularly surprising,” he said of the onetime JV team. “We’ve long acknowledged how dangerous they are. And that said, we also know that there are tools and techniques that can be used to counter and defeat them.”