BAGHDAD: Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi told US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel on Tuesday that his army is taking the offensive against the Islamic State group but needs more air power and heavy weaponry to prevail.
Hagel, who flew to Baghdad to get a first-hand report on progress against the Islamic State militants, held a series of meetings with top Iraqi government officials and conferred with American military commanders. He met with al-Abadi at the prime minister’s office after addressing a group of US and Australian soldiers at Baghdad International Airport.
Al-Abadi told Hagel as their meeting began that “Daesh (Islamic State) is on the descent at the moment.” He said their capabilities had been reduced.
“We are very thankful for the support that’s been given to us,” al-Abadi said. “Our forces are very much advancing on the ground. But they need more air power and more … heavy weaponry. We need that”.
Asked later about al-Abadi’s request, Hagel told reporters, “I appreciated his directness,” but he was not more specific about how he responded. US officials assert that the Iraqis’ biggest need is competent military leadership, not additional military hardware. The prime minister said the Islamic State had acquired extensive weaponry and remained able to move back and forth between Iraq and Syria. That contrasts with statements by US commanders who say the militants’ ability to resupply their fighters in Iraq has been severely constrained by airstrikes. In remarks to reporters later, Hagel said Iraqi forces are preparing for broader counteroffensives. Hagel said he was leaving Iraq encouraged by progress on the battlefield against the militants and by the Iraqi government’s renewed efforts to unify the country. “As Iraqi leaders and the people of Iraq know, only they can bring lasting peace to their country if they are resolved to do that,” he said.
He also said months of attacks on the Islamic State militants have been effective. “These efforts are thwarting ISIL’s ability to manoeuvre, communicate, coordinate and control their forces, as well as their ability to sustain and resupply themselves,” Hagel said, using an alternative acronym for the extremist group. “Iraqi forces will be able to intensify offensive operations as the coalition’s training effort expands into northern, western and central Iraq”. On what is expected to be his last overseas trip as Pentagon chief, Hagel landed at the airport under tight security.