Susan Rice Talks Up U.S. Effort to Destroy ISIS Amid Discouraging Reports

By Susan Jones | October 13, 2014 | 7:24 AM EDT

US National Security Advisor Susan Rice (photo credit: AP/Craig Ruttle/File)

( - National Security Adviser Susan Rice says "Yes," it feels like the United States is degrading and destroying ISIS.

"Our air campaign is off to a strong start," Rice told NBC's "Meet the Press," even though NBC's own correspondent in the Middle East, Richard Engel, said just the opposite a few minutes before Rice spoke.  Engel, reporting from northern Iraq on Sunday, said that ISIS/ISIL terrorists "do not seem to be degraded at all."

'[R]ight now, does it feel as if we're degrading and destroying ISIS?" Chuck Todd asked Rice.

"Yes, Chuck," Rice replied. "We are in the midst, in the early stages, as you acknowledged, of what is going to be, as President Obama said, a long-term effort. Let's recall what it is we're trying to do. We're trying over time to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL and prevent it from having permanent safe haven, from which it can conduct terrorist attacks against us or our partners in the region from the territory of Iraq or Syria.

"Now this is going to take time...On the one hand, we're trying to build up the capacity of the Iraqis, which means the Iraqi army, the Kurds, the Peshmerga inside of Iraq who have over years, atrophied. They've become more sectarian. They've become less skilled in their ability to take the fight to ISIL.

"So we're building up that capacity and we have seen some success in that regard. On the Syrian side, we also have a larger-term challenge of supporting the moderate opposition and giving them, while they have great will, greater capacity to fight Assad and to fight ISIL.

"So this is going to take time. Our air campaign is off to a strong start, and we've seen very important successes in places like Mosul Dam, Sinjar Mountain, where we were able to rescue many tens of thousands of civilians at risk. And this is going to take time. So it can't be judged by merely what happens in one particular town or in one particular region. This is going to take time and the American people need to understand that our aim here is long-term degradation and building the capacity of our partners."

But NBC's Richard Engel told Chuck Todd, "There are enormous contradictions in the U.S. strategy that are becoming more apparent every day. Let's start with Iraq," he said.

"The Iraqi army is in no better shape now than it was when it collapsed. The new Iraqi government is not instilling confidence in the people. It is not instilling confidence in the armed forces. The U.S. spent years and years and billions of dollars to build the Iraqi army, only to watch it collapse and hand over so many of its weapons.

"So it is completely unrealistic to think that now, with a little bit of outside help and a lot of American good will, that the army is going to fundamentally change and the Iraqi government, which is really just a reshuffle of the same characters, is going to fundamentally change and suddenly inspire the Iraqi people to be behind it," Engel said.

"On the other side in Syria, there are no allies on the ground. There are some Kurdish militias, but we're not even fully backing them. We're not consistently backing them."

Rice told "Meet the Press" that the campaign against ISIS/ISIL will not include U.S. ground combat, something the Obama administration has said dozens of times.

"The president has been very plain that this is not a campaign that requires or even would benefit from American ground troops in combat again. The Iraqi prime minister, the government of Iraq, have said very plainly they don't want American troops in combat. We are there to help build up the Iraqi capacity to sustain their territory and to hold their ground."

"The implication here is that the Iraqi troops aren't working," Todd told Rice.

"Well, it's early days, Chuck. As I said, they've atrophied over the years because Maliki, the former prime minister governed in a very sectarian way, turned the Iraqi Army into an army for part of Iraq rather than all of Iraq, and then has squandered equipment and training. We have a long way to go with the new Iraqi government to build back that capacity."

There will be "good days, bad days, victories, and setbacks, as the Iraqis themselves take this fight to ISIL."

Rice repeated that the U.S. will "do what we can from the air," to support Iraqi security forces, the Kurds, and eventually the moderate opposition in Syria.

"But we are not going to be in a ground war again in Iraq. It's not what is required by the circumstances that we face and even if one were to take that step, which the president has made clear we're not going to do, it wouldn't be sustainable. We've got to do this in a sustainable way."

But Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey told ABC's "This Week," "If we reach the point where I believe our advisers should accompany Iraq troops on attacks against specific ISIL targets, I'll recommend that to the president."

Dempsey said he expects Mosul to be the "decisive battle" in the ground campaign against ISIS "at some point in the future."

"My instinct at this point is that that will require a different kind of advising and assisting, because of the complexity of that fight," Dempsey said.

And former Obama Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told CBS's "Face the Nation" that the effort to defeat ISIS/ISIL has to include ground troops at some point: "Maybe doesn't have to be American boots on the ground, but you have got to have people on the ground who can identify targets and who can help us develop the kind of effective airstrikes that are going to be needed if we are going to be able to undermine, destroy this vicious enemy that we are dealing with."

Panetta said U.S. military commanders "are going to be looking at every possibility of how we effectively deal with ISIS. And I don't know what...recommendations they have made or not made. But I will say this: I think the President of the United States has to be open to whatever recommendations are made in order to ensure that we are effective in going after ISIS."

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