WASHINGTON — The commander of U.S. military operations against Islamic State militants cautioned Friday against expecting quick progress in Iraq.
Army Gen. Lloyd Austin said he believes the Iraqi government will successfully enlist the support of Sunni tribal leaders in Anbar province to turn the tide in that important region, where the militants have made recent gains.
And he said he sees no imminent threat to the international airport west of Baghdad, where U.S. Apache helicopters are monitoring IS efforts to make inroads on the capital.
"The campaign to destroy ISIL will take time and there will be occasional setbacks along the way," Austin told a Pentagon news conference, using another acronym for the Islamic State group, "and particularly in these early stages of the campaign as we coach and mentor a force that is actively working to regenerate capability after years of neglect and poor leadership."
Austin, who commanded U.S. forces in Iraq in the final years of the 2003-2011 war, provided an overview of U.S.-led efforts and priorities in Syria and Iraq — his first since airstrikes in Iraq began Aug. 8.
As an example of fresh progress, Austin said Iraqi soldiers on Friday attacked north from Baghdad to Beiji, home to Iraq's largest oil refinery.