Senior U.S. military leaders say Sunni militants creeping closer to Baghdad are stretched thin and that Iraqi security forces could hold the capital if attacked. But as far as U.S. help in striking back against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the officials warn the U.S. is not there yet.
The offensive was rapid and overwhelming - militants fighting under ISIL’s banner taking over town after town in northern Iraq.
Now, they are meeting with more resistance in places like Tikrit. And top U.S. General Martin Dempsey says it appears their reach is waning.
“They (ISIL) are stretched right now, stretched to control what they’ve gained and stretched across their logistics, lines of communication.”
That’s given Iraq’s security forces time to regroup, added Dempsey, who is chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the U.S. Armed Forces.
“The ISF (Iraqi Security Forces) are stiffening, that they’re capable of defending Baghdad, that they would be challenged to go on the offense, mostly logistically challenged,” said Dempsey.
But even as Iraq uses planes from Russia and Iran to expand its reach against ISIL, Iraqi officials are upset that similar help from the U.S. has been slow to materialize - despite the presence of nearly 200 military advisers and surveillance from ships in the Persian Gulf.
And analysts say there may well be reason to worry, even about Baghdad. Among those concerned is Jessica Lewis from the Institute for the Study of War
“I think it’s very possible for ISIS (ISIL) to execute a far-away offensive in order to distract or draw off ISF away and leave Baghdad more vulnerable,” says Lewis.
Recent U.S. actions also suggest Washington's heightened concern - sending additional troops to Iraq to provide security for the embassy and the airport, backed by Apache attack helicopters.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel elaborated on the measures.
“We're helping provide our diplomats time and space to work with Sunni, Kurd, Shia political leaders as they attempt to form a new, inclusive national unity government,” said Hagel.
U.S. military officials insist an inclusive government is the most effective way for Iraq to answer ISIL’s brutality, saying without political progress "the future is pretty bleak."