WASHINGTON — The Army’s top officer believes the fight against the Islamic State, commonly known as ISIS or ISIL, will last “10 to 20 years,” an expansion of the timelines generally offered by the Obama administration.
Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, added that the solution to the militant group cannot come entirely by military means.
“In my mind, ISIS is a ten to twenty year problem, it’s not a two years problem,” he told reporters Friday. “Now, I don’t know what level it will be a problem, but it’s a long term problem.”
White House officials have been warning since strikes began against the militant group that the fight could be years long, but Odierno’s assessment is by far the longest timetable laid out by a Pentagon official.
“The administration has said ‘three to five’ years. I think in order to defeat ISIL, it’s going to take longer than that,” Odierno said. “This movement is growing right now, and so I think it’s going to take us a bit longer than we originally thought.”
Odierno noted that part of the challenge is that a purely military solution is not readily available.
“To defeat them, is not just a military issue. It is an economic issue. It is a diplomatic issue. It is an issue of moderate versus extremists and it is about also, potentially, having the capability to root them out of the places they now hold in Iraq and Syria.”
The general, who is retiring in August, made his comments in response to a question about budget cuts and the impact that they are having on Army capability. His answer came while noting that the Army is “not going to be able to do everything we’re being asked to do” under the expected budget environment.
While acknowledging the challenges in the fight, Odierno did keep in line with the Obama administration’s goal of having the fight against ISIL be handled primarily by local forces on the ground.
“Others should do this,” he said. “I believe the nations in the Middle East need to solve this problem. We should be helping them to solve this problem.”