U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Thursday that defense officials are looking at ways to enhance efforts to train and equip pro-government forces in Iraq as they battle Islamic State fighters.
Speaking to reporters traveling with him on a trip to Asia, Carter said recent events in Iraq, where the militants seized the provincial capital of the sprawling Anbar province west of Baghdad, have shown the need for a "capable ground partner." The U.S. has been conducting airstrikes in Iraq since August, but so far ruled out sending in any ground troops of its own.
WATCH: US-led coalition gives weapons to Iraqi troops
Will of Iraqi troops questioned
Carter questioned the "will" of Iraqi government troops after the fall of Ramadi, prompting the White House to respond with comments reaffirming U.S. support for the Iraqi mission against the Islamic State.
The defense chief said Thursday that speeding up training and getting equipment to the battlefield will affect Iraqi forces with "their confidence in their ability to operate." He said the effort should also include preparing Sunni fighters to join the fight.
"I think one particular way that's extremely important is to involve the Sunni tribes in the fight," he said. "That means training and equipping them."
Multi-sectarian force needed
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Wednesday that the U.S. believes the fight in Ramadi will require a multi-sectarian force to succeed.
"And the reason for that is Iraq is a very diverse country and they are going to need every element of their diversity to counter this specific threat ... and it is going to require a multi-sectarian security force to take the fight to ISIL [ Islamic State ] and to not just drive ISIL out of the country, but also to hold the ground," he said.