On a surprise visit to Iraq, the United States top military officer has said the momentum in the battle with ISIL militants is “starting to turn”.
But General Martin Dempsey still predicted a drawn-out campaign that would last several years.
Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met Iraq’s Defence Minister Khaled al-Obeidi and Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in Baghdad.
Dempsey told American troops that the US military had helped Iraqi and Kurdish forces “pull Iraq back from the precipice”.
“And now, I think it’s starting to turn. So well done,” he added, speaking to a group of Marines at the US embassy in Baghdad.
Dempsey said it had been crucial to show that ISIL was not an unstoppable, 10-foot-tall force and instead “a bunch of midgets running around with a really radical ideology”.
Later, he travelled to Arbil, capital of the Kurdistan semi-autonomous region in the north.
President Barack Obama began sending non-combatant troops back to Iraq in the summer for the first time since US forces withdrew in 2011.
About 1,400 US troops are now in Iraq. Earlier this month, the President approved sending up to 1,500 more troops there.
While they help Iraqi and Kurdish forces battle extremists on the ground, airstrikes are continuing against ISIL which has captured large swathes of territory in both Iraq and Syria.
The threat could be bigger than first thought however.
Kurdish sources in Sunday's British press suggest that ISIL has an army of at least 200,000 fighters – up to eight times bigger than foreign intelligence estimates.