BAGHDAD — The United States' top military officer told American troops on a surprise visit to Baghdad on Saturday that the momentum in the battle with ISIS was "starting to turn", but predicted a drawn-out campaign lasting several years. General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was visiting Iraq for the first time since President Barack Obama responded to ISIS advances this summer by ordering troops back into a country they left in 2011.
Hours earlier, an Iraqi army colonel said security forces appeared close to retaking the country's biggest refinery at Baiji, which has been under siege for months by Islamic State militants. Obama last week authorized roughly doubling the number of American ground forces in Iraq as the military expands the reach of its advisers after slowing the militants' advances with U.S. airstrikes. Dempsey told the troops the U.S. military had helped Iraqi and Kurdish forces "pull Iraq back from the precipice".
"And now, I think it's starting to turn. So well done," Dempsey told a group of Marines at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. ISIS has captured swathes of territory in both Iraq and Syria, where the United States is also conducting air strikes with its allies in pursuit of Obama's declared objective to "degrade and destroy" the militants.
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