IRBIL, Iraq – The top U.S. military officer landed in Iraq Tuesday to get an update on the battle against ISIS militants, saying he sees no prospect right now for Russia to expand its airstrike campaign into the war-torn country.
Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was making his first trip to the warzone since taking the top post on Oct. 1. He told reporters traveling with him that earlier reports that the Iraqi government wanted Russia to conduct airstrikes in Iraq are no longer in play. He said U.S. officials spoke with Iraqi leaders and were told no Russian strikes have been requested.
Dunford said he wants to talk with his commanders to get updates on battles in Beiji and Ramadi.
“Being in the job about two weeks, one of the things I want to do is go over here, get eyes on, on the ground,” Dunford said as his C-17 headed into Irbil.
Dunford’s flight into Iraq was suddenly delayed when Iraqis on the ground in Irbil refused to allow his C-17 aircraft to land because it’s a cargo plane.
Just before 9:30 a.m., local time, as Dunford’s plane approached Irbil, the crew was directed to fly instead to Baghdad.
The change set off a flurry of activity on the plane, as military staff quickly yanked phones and cords out of containers to make urgent phone calls to officials on the ground, as the C-17 flew toward Baghdad. After about a half-hour, the aircraft got permission to land in Irbil.
It was unclear what triggered the mix-up, but officials said the plane’s flight had been pre-approved by Iraqi leaders.
This also is Dunford’s first overseas trip since he took the chairman’s job on Oct. 1, signaling the high priority he and the Pentagon leadership place on finding the right formula to use local forces backed by coalition airstrikes to defeat the ISIS extremists and retake territory the militants control in Iraq and Syria.
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