Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Iraq is seeking US airstrikes to battle the growing violence led by a militant Islamic organization. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — The Iraqi government has requested US military airstrikes to help combat widespread violence in Iraq, led by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the top American general told Congress Wednesday.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, confirmed the request during a Senate Appropriations Defense subcommittee hearing when being questioned by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
“We have a request from the Iraqi government for airpower,” Dempsey said.
Earlier Wednesday morning, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said the Air Force would be ready to conduct air strikes and support missions in Iraq if directed by President Barack Obama.
“I’m very confident that if the order comes down ... our Air Force would be ready,” James told the Defense Writers Group at a breakfast in Washington.
Not specifically speaking about Iraq, James said the Air Force could be ready within hours to conduct missions.
The Air Force could bring numerous “capabilities” if requested for a variety of missions in Iraq, including airlift, reconnaissance, strike, aerial refueling, and command and control, she said.
The Pentagon has basing arrangements with numerous countries throughout the Middle East, including Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Dozens of Air Force aircraft, including F-15E, F-16 and F-22 fighters; KC-135 tankers; A-10 strike aircraft; B-1B bombers; C-17 and C-130 transports; and an array of unmanned aircraft are already based or rotating though the region.
“We have a variety of assets already over there in the regular order and of course we have others that could be moved within a matter of a fairly short period of time should that be asked of us,” James said.
Additional assets could be brought into the Middle East, if necessary, she said.
The Obama administration is considering a number of options to combat ISIL, which has reportedly taken control of a number of cities throughout the country.
“The Air Force is fully engaged in the planning efforts and we are standing by with our sister services,” James said, noting she is not part of the administration’s contingency planning team.■