There will be 1,600 U.S. troops in Iraq by the time President Obama’s current plans are fully in place — but none of those are considered combat troops, which means the U.S. is not officially reengaged in the war there, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told Congress on Tuesday.
“Instead, these advisers are supporting Iraqi and Kurdish forces in supporting the government’s plan to stand up Iraqi national guard units,” Mr. Hagel told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
He and Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were giving the most detailed public look yet at Mr. Obama’s plans to try to limit and eventually destroy the Islamic State militants who have taken over a large chunk of Syria and Iraq.
Mr. Hagel assured lawmakers the U.S. troops are not engaged in a combat mission, but said American air power, which has conducted more than 160 strikes on Islamic State forces, has been critical to stopping the militants’ advance.
But Gen. Dempsey said if he believes U.S. forces could help the attack by accompanying Iraqi forces on their combat missions, he will make that recommendation to Mr. Obama.
The two officials were on Capitol Hill to plead with Congress to approve Mr. Obama’s request that Congress authorize the training and supply of moderate Syrian rebels, who are at war with both the Islamic State and with the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.
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Protesters interrupted the hearing several times, accusing officials in Washington of rushing toward another war.
“Please senators,” pleaded one man, asking for peace rather than a commitment to a broader fight.
Committee Chairman Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, banged his gavel and asked the protesters to get out of the hearing room, telling one: “You’re acting very warlike yourself, would you please leave?”
“That’s a good line,” complimented Sen. James Inhofe, the ranking Republican on the committee.
• Stephen Dinan can be reached at email@example.com.
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