The Iraqis don’t want Western troops on the ground in their country to help retake cities captured by Islamic State militants, British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said.
Fallon, in Washington Friday for meetings with U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter at the Pentagon, said Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi stressed the need for local forces to expel ISIS from Iraq when Fallon visited Baghdad over the summer.
“Prime Minister Adadi told me to my face: We do not want British troops or, with respect, even American troops,” Fallon said during a meeting with reporters at the British Embassy in Washington. “This has to be done by local forces that can enjoy the confidence of the Sunni tribes.”
The British parliament voted last week to expand the U.K.’s participation in the airstrike campaign against ISIS into Syria. Previously, Royal Air Force Tornado and Typhoon warplanes and Reaper drones were bombing ISIS strongholds only in Iraq. Fallon said the U.K. has doubled the number of strike aircraft and upped the number of missions it flies from two to five per day.
British Rivet Joint intelligence planes have been flying missions over both Iraq and Syria for more than a year.
Fallon lamented the “frustratingly slow progress on the ground” by ground forces to recapture cities such as Ramadi, which fell to ISIS in May, but said there are bright spots.
“There is progress in Iraq,” he said. “We need to continue that on the Syrian side of the border.” Among divided Syrians, though, the mission is not just to defeat ISIS.
“We want a locally grown Syrian security force that can keep the confidence of the population if and when Raqqa is liberated,” Fallon said.