WASHINGTON -- The United States' top military officer says President Barack Obama will evaluate each situation individually before deciding if U.S. military advisers will be put into combat roles in Iraq.
General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the U.S. Senate's Armed Services Committee on September 16 that Obama told him to "to come back to him on a case-by-case basis."
Obama has publicly ruled out sending U.S. troops into ground combat in Iraq, something that Dempsey acknowledged.
But Dempsey repeatedly floated the possibility of sending U.S. military advisers with Iraqi troops on combat missions, though he said that there was no current need to do so.
"If the Iraqi security forces and the [Kurdish] Peshmerga [forces] were at some point ready to retake [the Iraqi city of] Mosul...it could very well be part of that particular mission to provide close combat advising or accompanying for that mission," he said.
But he added that "for the day-to-day activities that I anticipate will evolve over time, I don’t see it to be necessary right now."
He said: "If we reach the point where I believe our advisers should accompany Iraqi troops on attacks against specific [Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] (ISIL) targets, I will recommend that to the president."
White House spokesman Josh Earnest responded to Dempsey by saying that the president sets the policy and his policy of putting no boots on the ground has not changed.
The speculation comes as many Americans are war weary after the Iraq War and 13-year-long conflict in Afghanistan.
But polls show a majority of Americans regard the Islamic State militants as a threat and support U.S. air strikes against them.
The Senate committee hearing was periodically interrupted by antiwar protesters who were escorted out of the room.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel stated at the hearing that he stood by an August 21 assessment of ISIL's strength, characterizing them as an "imminent threat to every interest we have."
He added: "[T]hey are beyond just a terrorist group. They marry ideology, a sophistication of...military prowess. They are tremendously well-funded. This is beyond anything we've seen."
Hagel said in his opening statement that the group was an "immediate threat to American citizens in Iraq and our interests in the Middle East."
He said if they are left unchecked it will "will directly threaten our homeland and our allies."
Dempsey said that an announced effort to recruit 5,000 Syrian rebels had not begun because the U.S. Congress has not passed funding to do so, and had no agreement that the fighters would fight IS militants and not Assad.
Senator John McCain (Republican-Arizona) questioned whether recruited Free Syrian Army fighters would stop fighting the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and only fight IS militants.
Dempsey said that as the U.S. trains the rebels then that issue would be decided in the future: "We do not have to deal with it now."
McCain replied: "For to us say that we will help and train and equip these people only to fight against ISIL, you're not going to get many recruits to do that, general."
Dempsey said IS militants would only be "defeated and destroyed" when they are rejected by the populations in which they operate.
"Truly, there is no military solution to ISIL," he said.
Prompted by Senate Armed Services chairman Carl Levin (Democrat-Michigan), Dempsey clarified that he meant the situation could not be resolved "purely" by the military.