America’s latest mission in Iraq has been marred from the start by mixed messages, disagreement in Congress, and a slow, steady increase in troop count.

In the battle to manage expectations regarding mission time and troop commitment, Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey has remained at odds with the Obama administration over pledges to keep American soldiers out of combat, and has tried to emphasize how volatile the situation in Iraq and Syria has become.

Dempsey followed up his announcement that the U.S. would consider sending a small number of ground troops to help Iraqi fighters engage insurgents by making a surprise visit to Iraq to assess the situation on the ground. Reports show that the General was pleased with the progress Iraqi troops had made, but managed expectations by saying that continuing to roll back the influence of ISIS will require deeper involvement in more complex operations.

From Fox News:

“I’m not predicting at this point that I would recommend that those forces in Mosul and along the border would need to be accompanied by U.S. forces, but we’re certainly considering it,” he told the U.S. House Armed Services Committee.

He added that the U.S. has a modest force in Iraq now, and “any expansion of that, I think, would be equally modest. I just don’t foresee a circumstance when it would be in our interest to take this fight on ourselves with a large military contingent.”

Dempsey’s visit comes just one day after Iraqi forces drove Islamic State militants out of a strategic oil refinery town north of Baghdad, scoring their biggest battlefield victory yet.

Recapturing the refineries at Beiji was a huge step for Iraqi forces because it allowed them to put a dent in the substantial amount of funding that ISIS receives from smuggling oil; but ISIS’ network is vast, which means that our approach to defeating ISIS won’t be nearly as straightforward as Administration officials would have the public believe. Dempsey has stressed that ISIS won’t be defeated without an international coalition:

According to Reuters news agency, whose reporters travelled with him, he told a group of marines at the US embassy in Baghdad that US forces had helped “pull Iraq back from the precipice”.

He said IS militants were not a force of 10ft tall fighters, but were instead “a bunch of midgets running around with a really radical ideology”.

However, he stressed that IS could not be defeated by the US alone.

The fight could take “several years”, he said, and would rely on the Iraqi government building trust between Sunnis and Shias.

ISIS’ control of Iraq has been shaken, but a full coalition effort is still necessary to destroy their network and rebuild on the local level. Hopefully, our lame duck president understands that, and will leave the military strategy to the Generals.