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National Security Adviser Susan Rice said ground troops will be a part of the campaign to combat Islamist terror group ISIS — but she repeated administration pledges that they will be Iraqi forces, and not U.S. troops, and warned the effort to combat the militants that have seized large parts of both Iraq and Syria will be a “long-term effort.”
“It’s got to be the Iraqis. This is their fight. This is their territory,” Rice said in an interview with NBC's “Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd. “When we had over 100,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, it still came down to whether the Iraqis were willing and able to fight for their own country.”
Rice said the Iraqi military “atrophied” under the sectarian rule of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and said the administration hopes the new government is able to rebuild that country’s armed forces so it can battle ISIS on its own. “It's not going to be quick. It's not going to be easy. But this is the only way to accomplish taking back territory, preventing a safe haven in Iraq in a sustainable way.”
"This is very early days of the strategy. Strategy's very clear. We'll do what we can from the air. We will support the Iraqi security forces, the Kurds, and ultimately over time, the moderate opposition in Syria to be able to control territory and take the fight to ISIL," Rice said, referring ISIS by the other name used for it.
Rice said the U.S. is not coordinating with Iran, which is supporting Iraqi forces in its fight against ISIS, and has a frosty relationship with Washington over its nuclear program. “We've had some informal consultations on the margins of the nuclear talks about certain regional issues but there's no coordination, there's no collaboration on the anti-ISIL campaign,” she said.
The U.S.-led coalition combating ISIS has, as of Saturday, conducted 436 airstrikes against ISIS forces on Iraq and Syria, with U.S. aircraft conducting the vast majority of those strikes, U.S. Central Command said. On Saturday, Kurdish fighters urged more airstrikes around the besieged Syrian border town of Kobani, according to Reuters, saying the airstrikes to beat back the militants attacking that town had been less effective in recent days.
Rice also said other countries “haven’t done enough” to help three West African countries to contain the Ebola outbreak that has ravaged Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guniea, and killed more than 4,000 people in seven months. “They haven't done enough and we are pushing very hard for everybody to do more,” Rice said. “This is going to take all hands on deck, because the goal has to be to contain this epidemic in the three countries that we've seen in West Africa to try to prevent its spread and to provide the appropriate care to those that need it.”
On North Korea and the conspicuous absence of its leader, Kim Jong Un, Rice said the administration is monitoring the situation but, “We have not seen any indications of a transfer of power at this point,” referring to speculation that the dictator of that country is ill or incapacitated.