Defense Secretary Ash Carter: Iraqis lack 'will to fight'

U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter offered a stinging criticism of the recent takeover of Ramadi by the terrorist group known as ISIS, arguing it demonstrated Iraqi forces lacked the “will to fight.”

Carter’s remarks are the most strident yet from the Obama Administration since the crucial city fell to extremists a week ago. He told CNN’s Barbara Starr in an interview that aired on Sunday that Iraqi forces were not outnumbered. “In fact, they vastly outnumbered the opposing force, and yet they failed to fight, they withdrew from the site. And that says to me, and I think to most of us, that we have an issue with the will of the Iraqis to fight [ISIS] and defend themselves,” he said.

The defense secretary called the situation “very concerning,” arguing while the U.S. and allies could provide Iraqis with training and equipment, they can’t give the forces motivation to fight.

“We can’t make this happen by ourselves, but we can assist it to happen, and we are counting on the Iraqi people to come behind a multi-sectarian government in Baghdad,” said Carter.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi’s office dismissed Carter’s assessment, telling NBC News that the takeover by ISIS was an anomaly and that the government has “started its on investigation to punish those who neglected their duty.” Dr. Sa’ad Al-Hadithi, the media director for Al-Abadi, added, “…we cannot consider one or two failures committed by our forces as a failure of all Iraqi troops.”

According to NBC News, Iraqi forces on Sunday, recaptured territory near Ramadi on Sunday – an effort to head back toward the key city that fell to ISIS a week ago.

Separately, according to Syrian state television, members of ISIS reportedly killed at least 400 people in the ancient city of Palmyra. Just days ago, the terrorist group claimed it had taken over Palmyra as well. 

How to combat ISIS was a central issue on the Sunday news shows. Sen. John McCain of Arizona accused the White House of having no game plan. The Republican said on CBS' "Face the Nation" that "there is no strategy, and anybody that says that there is, I’d like to hear what it is, because it certainly isn’t apparent..." McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee argued in favor of a more militaristic strategy. "We need to have a more robust strategy. We need more troops on the ground, we need forward air controllers - we're just referring to air strikes," he said.

On the other hand, Democratic California Rep. Adam Schiff said on the same show that there will be no victory unless the Iraqi government can resolve its own issues. He added, "I wouldn’t say that we’re winning. I don’t think we’re losing either, but I think we’re seeing an ebb and flow, and largely a stalemate situation in the war against ISIS."