America's top military leader arrived in Iraq today on a previously unannounced visit, his first since a US-led coalition began launching airstrikes against the extremist Islamic State group. The visit by Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, came just two days after he told Congress that the United States would consider dispatching a modest number of American forces to fight with Iraqi troops against the extremist group. But, he added, "I just don't foresee a circumstance when it would be in our interest to take this fight on ourselves with a large military contingent."
The general planned to visit US troops, commanders, and Iraqi leaders. "The primary purpose of his visit is to get a firsthand look at the situation in Iraq, receive briefings, and get better sense of how the campaign is progressing," says a spokesperson. Dempsey was meeting with Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and US Ambassador Stuart E. Jones in Baghdad, and with Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani in Irbil. The visit comes a day after Iraqi forces drove Islamic State militants out of a strategic oil refinery town north of Baghdad, scoring their biggest battlefield victory yet.