BAGHDAD (AFP) - US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel landed in Baghdad on Tuesday for an unannounced visit aimed getting a first look at the US-led war effort against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group.
Hagel, who is due to step down from office shortly, is to be briefed by US military commanders and hold talks with his Iraqi counterpart as well as Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
Soon after he landed, Hagel spoke to a group of US and Australian troops and thanked them for their efforts. He told them the United States and its allies can help the Iraqis in their fight against ISIS but that the outcome of the campaign would ultimately depend on the Baghdad government.
“It’s their country, they’re going to have to lead,” he said. “The Iraqi leadership will need to build an inclusive government that wins the trust of all the country’s religious and ethnic communities, he said.
US and allied warplanes have launched more than 1,200 air strikes against ISIS fighters since August 8. Washington also has about 1,500 troops in Iraq providing security for the American embassy and advising the Baghdad government’s army and Kurdish forces.
Last month President Barack Obama approved the deployment of another 1,500 troops to bolster the training and advising effort across the country. Hagel is on his first trip to Iraq since taking over as Pentagon chief in February 2013. It is also set to be his last visit to the country before he stands down.
Hagel announced his resignation last month, rejecting accounts that he was forced out and saying it was a mutual agreement with Obama.