(AA) – U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter said Tuesday that recently disclosed information by U.S. Central Command plans about an Iraqi offensive was wrong and shouldn’t have been released.
In a Feb. 19 background briefing to reporters, a CENTCOM official said the Iraqi government and a U.S.-led coalition would take action in Mosul as early as April or May and that 12 brigades equivalent to 20,000-22,000 troops will take part in the operation.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also said Kurdish forces will contain in the north the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or Daesh, and isolate the militant group, which is also known as ISIL, from the west.
“That clearly was neither accurate information, nor had it been accurate would it have been information that should be blurted out to the press. So it’s wrong on both scores,” Carter told lawmakers during a Senate Armed Service Committee hearing on the 2016 defense budget.
Daesh seized Mosul last June in a rapid offensive, while Iraqi army forces fled. The U.S.-led coalition began pounding Daesh targets in Iraq in an air campaign that began in August.
An offensive in Tikrit to seal off Daesh militants there concerns Carter, who said the operation could reignite sectarian conflicts in Iraq because of the Shia militias.
“Sectarianism is what brought us to the point where we are. And so I do look at it with concern,” he said adding that the Pentagon is closely watching the developments.
Reports and pictures have surfaced that showed Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani coordinating Iraqi forces for the offensive in Tikrit on the front lines with Shiite militias.
Carter said the Iraqi forces did not ask for American or coalition help in the Tikrit offensive and noted that the offensive against Daesh should be conducted in a way that it wouldn’t again inflame sectarianism.
“That’s why we’re watching this so closely,” he added.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey also testified before the committee and said the investigation into CENTCOM information was under investigation.
Dempsey also agreed with the Carter on the possibility of sectarianism. “It will only be a problem if it results in sectarianism,” he said, while adding that Iran and its proxies have been in Iraq since 2004 and the Tikrit offensive is the most overt Iranian support in the form of artillery.
“If the central government of Iraq does not achieve — let’s call it reconciliation, because that’s probably the right word, with the Shia and the Kurds, then it does put our campaign at risk. And so, I am concerned about that,” Dempsey added.