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Pentagon Seeks to Empower Sunnis Fighting Islamic State in Iraq


FILE - U.S. Joint Chiefs Chairman General Martin Dempsey speaks to reporters in Washington, Sept. 26, 2014.

FILE - U.S. Joint Chiefs Chairman General Martin Dempsey speaks to reporters in Washington, Sept. 26, 2014.

The chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff says the Pentagon is considering ways to better engage the Sunni Arab tribes of Iraq's Anbar province in the battle against Islamic State militants.

General Martin Dempsey told reporters Thursday that Islamic State advances in Anbar province require empowering the tribes that are battling the extremist group.

"That's why we need to expand the train-advise-and-assist mission into al-Anbar province. But the precondition for that is that the government of Iraq is willing to arm the tribes," he said.

Dempsey said the United States has seen positive indications that the Iraqi government is willing to arm the tribes, but the Iraqis have not yet begun to do so.

Engaging the Sunni tribesmen in Anbar is one of three key elements of a strategy for defeating Islamic State fighters in northern and western Iraq, Dempsey said. Another key element is creating what he called "national guard" units designed to aid the Iraqi military. That element would first need approval from the Iraqi government. The third component, he said, is advising and assisting Iraqi and Kurdish troops.

"You need all three of those eventually," Dempsey said. "Right now we are focused on the national security forces."

Iraqi security officials say IS fighters have slaughtered hundreds of Anbar tribesmen who resisted IS rule. They say 150 bodies from the Sunni Muslim Albu Nimr tribe were found buried in a mass grave near Ramadi. More than 70 others were dumped near Hit.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Thursday that the systematic killing of Sunni tribesmen in Anbar province is the brutal reality the United States and its allies are facing in the battle against Islamic State militants.

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    Carla Babb

    Carla is VOA's Pentagon correspondent covering defense and international security issues. Her datelines include Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Korea.

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