US targets IS

WASHINGTON – The White House and the US military have scrambled to play down a suggestion by the nation’s top officer that deploying ground forces in Iraq to fight Islamic State jihadists was an option.

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff and President Barack Obama’s top military adviser, had said US military advisers could be sent into combat alongside Iraqi forces.

General Dempsey said the US personnel could “provide close-combat advising”, but the White House insisted the idea of US troops in battle was a “purely hypothetical scenario”.

And in a day of mixed messages, Colonel Ed Thomas, a spokesman for the general, then tried to bring some clarity to the situation, saying in a rare statement that General Dempsey “doesn’t believe there is a military requirement for our advisers to accompany Iraqi forces into combat”.

Military leaders nevertheless warned of a further escalation in their battle against the jihadists, just as two branches of the rival al-Qaida group called for a united front against the war coalition Washington is building.

US jets have been targeting IS fighters in northern Iraq since August 8, and in recent days hit militants southwest of Baghdad for the first time, in a significant expansion of the campaign.