Pentagon assigns 2-star general to oversee assessment in Iraq, a sign of task’s sensitivity


Iraq Watch

The latest news from Iraq. For more Iraq coverage, visit McClatchyDC

McClatchy Washington Bureau

The U.S. military named a two-star general to head up the teams that have been sent to Iraq to determine what U.S. military assistance might help halt the advance of radical Islamist insurgents who’ve seized control of much of the country in the past two weeks.

Army Maj. Gen. Dana J.H. Pittard, who’s the deputy commanding general of operations for the 3rd Army, which is based in Kuwait, will direct the work of the 300 or so advisers President Barack Obama has said will be assigned to Iraq to help the government in Baghdad repulse the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. ISIS fighters in the past two weeks have seized Mosul, the country’s second largest city, Tikrit, the hometown of the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, and is threatening the Iraqi government’s hold on the country’s largest refinery at Baiji.

About 180 of those advisers are now in Iraq, including 50 who arrived on Thursday, the Pentagon said.

The assignment of a two-star general to lead just 300 troops underscores the unusual nature of the current crisis in Iraq, where one of the first tasks will be to fill an intelligence gap that U.S. officials said has existed about conditions in Iraq since the United States withdrew the last of its troops in 2011.

Pittard, who will lead the Iraq Joint Forces Land Component Command, also likely will work as a quasi-diplomat to Iraqi commanders, experts said. Pittard, however, will answer to U.S. Central Command, the military unit that has responsibility for American military activities in the Middle East.

“Having a two-star there will indicate his role will be, in part, political engagement,” said Jessica Lewis, research director of the Washington-based Institute for the Study of the War.

Pittard will find a complex situation in the Iraq assignment. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki also has asked for assistance from Iran, which reportedly has sent its own advisers, and on Thursday he welcomed airstrikes against ISIS forces by the Syrian air force. Both Iran and Syria are bitter rivals of the United States in the Middle East.

Maliki has asked the United States to conduct airstrikes against ISIS forces, but the Obama administration has so far declined to undertake them. Maliki also is seeking Russian-made fighter aircraft amid frustration that the first delivery of U.S. F-16s won’t arrive in Iraq until September.

One of the first tasks Pittard is expected to undertake is determining why the U.S.-trained Iraqi military simply melted away in Mosul when confronted with ISIS forces on June 10. The abandonment of their positions in Mosul set off a rout that saw ISIS come within two hours of Baghdad before the advance slowed and allowed Kurdish militiamen to seize control of the long disputed oil-rich city of Kirkuk.

The U.S. advisers are expected to quiz lower-level soldiers on why the retreat took place, and they are likely to get more information than what can be learned from senior Iraqi officials. “There is a broader question of evaluating the security forces,” Lewis said, “and I am not sure that can be answered at the ministerial level.”

A U.S. Military Academy graduate, Pittard served in the 1991 Gulf War and was part of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. His last Iraq assignment was commander of the Iraqi Assistance Group, which was designed to mentor Iraq’s nascent security forces. He also served as commander of Fort Bliss in Texas.

Read more World Wires stories from the Miami Herald

  • South Africa: Soap opera cast is fired

    The producers of a hugely popular South African television soap opera fired the main cast this week after the actors went on strike for more pay.

Foreign Ministers of France Laurent Fabius, Ukraine Pavlo Klimkin, Germany Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Russia Sergey Lavrov, from left, go for a walk before a meeting at the Guesthouse of Foreign Ministry Villa Borsig in Berlin, Sunday, Aug. 17, 2014.

    Merkel Ukraine role mirrors rising German ambition

    Chancellor Angela Merkel's emergence as a leader in efforts to resolve Ukraine's crisis — showcased by a visit to Kiev this weekend — underlines Germany's increasing ambition to transform itself from economic power to diplomatic heavyweight.

  • 4 suspects arrested over IRA letter-bomb campaign

    Northern Ireland police say they have arrested four people suspected of organizing an Irish Republican Army letter-bomb campaign.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category