Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter said Sunday that Iraqi forces had demonstrated “no will to fight” against the Islamic State, blaming them for a retreat that led to the terrorist group’s victory in capturing the Iraqi city of Ramadi.
While that critical assessment of Iraqi security forces has been voiced in Congress and by policy research institutes, Mr. Carter’s remarks on CNN’s “State of the Union” were some of the administration’s strongest language to date about Iraq’s repeated inability to hold and take back territory from the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.
“They were not outnumbered. In fact, they vastly outnumbered the opposing force and yet they failed to fight and withdrew from the site,” he said. “That says to me and, I think, to most of us, that we have an issue with the will of the Iraqis to fight ISIL and defend themselves.”
Mr. Carter said American and allied airstrikes had been “effective,” and reiterated the Obama administration’s opposition to sending American ground troops to work alongside Iraqis on the front lines to offer more accurate guidance for bombing.
Some members of Congress, including Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, have called on President Obama to authorize American troops to accompany Iraqi forces on the battlefield to call in specific locations for bombing.
The administration is focused on continuing to bolster the Iraqi forces, who will ultimately win or lose the fight, Mr. Carter said.
“If there comes a time when we have to change the kinds of support we give, we will make that recommendation,” Mr. Carter said. “But what happened in Ramadi was a failure of the Iraqi forces to fight, and so our efforts now are devoted to providing their ground forces with the equipment, the training, and encouraging their will to fight so that our campaign enabling them can be successful — both in defeating ISIL and keeping ISIL defeated in a sustained way.”
The comments come as the Islamic State appears to be surging, tightening its grip on Anbar Province in Iraq and parts of Syria after American and Iraqi officials last month highlighted the group’s setbacks.
Mr. McCain, who is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, on Sunday repeated his call to send American ground troops, including Special Operations forces, into Iraq.
“We need to have a strategy,” he said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “There is no strategy. And anybody that says that there is I’d like to hear what it is. Because it certainly isn’t apparent now.”
Representative Mac Thornberry, the Texas Republican who heads the House Armed Services Committee, spoke on the ABC program “This Week” and emphasized the need for more and better intelligence.
“The other thing we’ve got to do is improve our intelligence capability,” he said. “We, I think, know less today than we knew five or six years ago about what terrorists around the world are doing for a variety of reasons, but the key way to know what they’re doing, to prevent them from getting a nuclear, chemical, biological weapon, is to augment our intelligence capability and then you’ve got to act.”