The top-ranking officer in the American military said on Thursday that the US is actively considering the direct use of troops in the toughest upcoming fights against the Islamic State (Isis) in Iraq, less than a week after Barack Obama doubled troop levels there.

General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, indicated to the House of Representatives armed services committee that the strength of Isis relative to the Iraqi army may be such that he would recommend abandoning Obama’s oft-repeated pledge against returning US ground troops to combat in Iraq.

Retaking the critical city of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest, and re-establishing the border between Iraq and Syria that Isis has erased “will be fairly complex terrain” for the Iraqi security forces that the US is once again supporting, Dempsey acknowledged.

“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 US forces, but we’re certainly considering it,” he said.

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