In its biggest military accomplishment this year, the Islamic State last week took Ramadi, a key Iraqi city the U.S. fought to secure roughly a decade ago. Now that the dust has settled, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter was frank in his assessment of what went wrong.
“What apparently happened is the Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight," Carter said. "They were not outnumbered; in fact, they vastly outnumbered the opposing force. 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."
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff agreed. "The ISF was not driven out of Ramadi," he said last week. "They drove out of Ramadi."
[T] he fall of Ramadi is reviving questions about the effectiveness of the Obama administration's approach in Iraq, a blend of retraining and rebuilding the Iraqi army, prodding the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad to reconcile with the nation's Sunnis and bombing Islamic State group targets from the air without committing American ground combat troops.
Obama's strategy is predicated on Baghdad granting political concessions to the country's alienated Sunnis, who are a source of personnel and money for the Islamic State group. But there has been little visible progress on that front. Baghdad has continued to work closely with Shiite militias backed by Iran, which have been accused of atrocities against Sunnis, a religious minority in Iraq that ruled until Saddam Hussein fell from power.
The U.S. has sought to reach out on its own to Sunni tribes and is training some Sunni fighters, but those efforts have been limited by the small number of American troops on the ground.
While Carter defended the use of airstrikes, he cautioned that they are not intended to be a replacement for the Iraqi military standing up to defend their country.
"We can participate in the defeat of ISIL," he said. "But we can't make Iraq ... a decent place for people to live — we can't sustain the victory, only the Iraqis can do that and, in particular in this case, the Sunni tribes to the West."
Iran, meanwhile, blamed the fall of Ramadi on the U.S. having “no will” to fight ISIS.