WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel took issue Thursday with the Iraqi prime minister's assertion that the U.S. has been too slow to provide weapons and training for his country, saying Haider al-Abadi's remarks are not helpful or correct.
On Wednesday Al-Abadi praised the coalition's air campaign but appealed for more aid, telling The Associated Press in an interview that, "we are in this almost on our own."
In a sharp rebuke, Hagel told reporters, "I do disagree with the prime minister's comments. I would say even further, I don't think they're helpful. We have a coalition of over 60 countries that have come together to help Iraq. And I think the prime minister might want to be a little more mindful of that."
Speaking at what is likely to be his final Pentagon news conference, Hagel fired off a list of weapons and equipment the U.S. has provided to Iraq, including at least 1,500 Hellfire missiles, 250 mine-resistant vehicles and thousands of small arms weapons and ammunition. He added that three of the four planned training camps are up and running in Iraq and the fourth will be operating soon.
Hagel, who met with al-Abadi when he was in Iraq last month, said the U.S. is doing everything it can to help the country, adding that, "the flow of ammunition and materiel and the requests continue at an accelerated rate." Hagel is stepping down next month as Pentagon chief.
Hagel also raised questions about recent comments by Stuart Jones, U.S. ambassador to Iraq, that the coalition has killed about 6,000 Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria.
"I have not seen any verification of that number of 6,000 that you referred to. We do know that thousands of ISIL fighters have been killed, and we do know that some of ISIL's leadership have been killed," Hagel said, using an acronym for the insurgent group.
He said the estimated body count is one measurement of the war, but other metrics are important. Hagel said the insurgents are now on the defensive, are having difficulty recruiting, and have seen disruptions in the supply lines and communications abilities.
There are 2,378 U.S. forces in Iraq, conducting training, advising and assisting Iraqi forces at the brigade and headquarters levels, and doing security.