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In his first visit to Iraq since the US air campaign against the Islamic State began in August, Joint Chiefs chair Gen. Martin Dempsey said that the battle against the group in Iraq is "starting to turn," but cautioned that the effort to eradicate the group will take several years. The Obama administration is thinking of escalating the CIA program that vets and trains "moderate" Syrian rebels, as part of its strategy in Syria against the Islamic State; the program currently turns out 400 fighters a month. Attorney General Eric Holder said the US is sending 70 or more prosecutors and law enforcement officials to the Balkans, North Africa, and the Middle East "to help track down jihadist fighters returning from Syria."
CENTCOM said the US and its coalition partners have conducted 20 strikes in Syria since Nov. 12, including one strike west of Aleppo against al Qaeda's "Khorasan" network; 19 of the strikes targeted the Islamic State in three provinces. US and coalition forces have also targeted the Islamic State in Iraq since Nov. 12, carrying out 16 airstrikes.
Joint Chiefs chair Gen. Dempsey said the US is considering sending a small number of US combat troops to fight alongside Iraqi forces against the Islamic State, and that about 80,000 effective Iraqi troops will be needed. Dempsey also said some 15,000 Syrian rebels will be needed to pressure Islamic State forces in northern and eastern Syria. Defense Secretary Hagel claimed that the coalition air campaign has stalled or reversed some of the terror group's gains in Iraq, and reiterated that US troops will not be involved in a ground combat mission there. Rep. McKeon, head of the House Armed Services Committee, questioned how the US' declared mission to degrade and destroy the terror group could be accomplished without the use of ground troops. Hagel also said the US will continue to seek to release Guantanamo Bay inmates.
Since Nov. 10, the US and its coalition partners have carried out 16 airstrikes against the Islamic State in Syria and seven airstrikes against the group in Iraq. The US also targeted al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula with a drone strike in Yemen, and a US drone strike yesterday in Pakistan killed several "foreign militants."
US officials indicated that more work needs to be done on negotiations over Iran's nuclear program, and said Secretary of State Kerry denounced comments by Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei calling for the destruction of Israel. US Central Command said it has carried out 23 airstrikes in Syria and 18 in Iraq against the Islamic State since Nov. 7.