WASHINGTON -- Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said Sunday that it is unlikely the United States can accomplish the goals President Barack Obama has laid out for defeating Islamic State militant groups in Iraq without putting some "boots on the ground."
"What I believe, and what I suspect most military people believe, is that given the mission the president has assigned, which is degrade and destroy, that to be able to do that, some small number of American advisers, trainers, Special Forces and forward spotters, forward air controllers, are going to have to be in harm's way," Gates said in an appearance on ABC's "This Week."
Gates said he thinks the number of troops needed, however, "will be very small."
Obama said last week that U.S. forces "do not and will not have a combat mission" in Iraq. Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a hearing earlier this week that there is no intention to have ground operations in Iraq, but also outlined some circumstances in which it could be necessary.
Gates said he agrees with Obama's assessment that the U.S. should wait until a new government is in place in Iraq to determine how to proceed. "This Week" host George Stephanopoulos noted that Gates has warned against getting involved in ground combat in places such as Iraq. Gates suggested the U.S. should proceed with caution.
"This is a generational conflict. And we need to understand that. We also need to be very modest about how we can shape the outcomes here," said Gates. "And I think one of the things we need to do is step back, look at this kind of cauldron of violence and instability that's going to be with us a long time and what is our strategy overall for the region? What do we want as an outcome?"
Gates also said that a mission of destroying the militant group ISIS would be "very ambitious," and the goal instead should be to keep the group from getting a "foothold" in Iraq. "I think destroying probably is ambitious, at least in the foreseeable future," said Gates. "But it is a realistic objective to try and push them out of Iraq and deny them a permanent foothold some place."