Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. Martin Dempsey sharply disputed retired Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula’s view that the US air campaign in Iraq was being hampered by “excessive” concern over civilian casualties. During a House Armed Services Committee hearing Wednesday, Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), a retired Air Force fighter pilot, expressed her “serious concerns” about the “incoherent strategy” in Iraq, particularly the limitations on air strikes. She quoted from a June 6 opinion article in which Deptula, the dean of AFA’s Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, said the effort to defeat ISIS was complicated by “an excessive focus on the avoidance of collateral damage and casualties.” Those “excessive restrictions,” Deptula wrote, “work to the advantage of the enemy.” Deptula and McSally both cited pilots’ complaints that those restrictions prevented them from hitting ISIS. “I couldn’t disagree more with Gen. Deptula,” Dempsey said during the hearing, with apparent irritation. Dempsey said decisions on when pilots could release ordnance “was made by the commander on the ground,” not in Washington, D.C. Responding to earlier questions, Dempsey and Defense Secretary Ash Carter said avoiding civilian casualties was necessary for humanitarian reasons and to prevent alienating the Iraqi population. “It’s really a matter of assuring the targets we hit are the targets we want to hit,” Dempsey said.
The U.S. supports “a stronger and more capable” European defense, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said during an Oct. 22 press conference in Brussels—but that defense should not duplicate the functions and capabilities of the NATO alliance.