WASHINGTON – The Islamic State group's takeover of Ramadi is evidence that Iraqi forces do not have the "will to fight," Defense Secretary Ash Carter said, in the harshest assessment yet from a high-ranking Obama administration official of Iraqi fighters and the loss of the provincial capital
Iraqi forces outnumbered their opposition in the capital of Anbar province, but failed to fight and pulled back from the city in central Iraq, Carter said on CNN's "State of the Union" which aired Sunday. The Iraqis left behind large numbers of U.S.-supplied vehicles, including several tanks.
"What apparently happened is the Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight. They were not outnumbered," Carter said of the Iraqi forces. "In fact, they vastly outnumbered the opposing force. That says to me, and I think to most of us, that we have an issue with the will of the Iraqis to fight ISIL and defend themselves."
The fall of Ramadi last Sunday has sparked questions about the effectiveness of the Obama administration's approach in Iraq, a blend of retraining and rebuilding the Iraqi army, prodding Baghdad to reconcile with the nation's Sunnis and bombing Islamic State group targets from the air without committing American ground combat troops.
Carter defended the use of U.S. airstrikes as an effective part of the fight against the Islamic State group but said they are not a replacement for Iraqi forces willing to defend their country.
"We can participate in the defeat of ISIL," he said, using another acronym for Islamic State. "But we can't make Iraq ... a decent place for people to live — we can't sustain the victory, only the Iraqis can do that and, in particular in this case, the Sunni tribes to the West."
The Pentagon this past week estimated that when Iraqi troops abandoned Ramadi, they left behind a half-dozen tanks, a similar number of artillery pieces, a larger number of armored personnel carriers and about 100 wheeled vehicles like Humvees.
Over the past year defeated Iraq security forces have repeatedly left behind U.S.-supplied military equipment, which the U.S. has targeted in subsequent airstrikes against Islamic State forces.
Carter did not discuss any new U.S. tactics in the fight against Islamic State group.