In an interview with CNN, Hagel said that no option is off the table in the effort to turn the tide against the Islamic State, and that the battle "may require a forward deployment of some of our troops," in non-combat roles such as gathering intelligence and locating Islamic State targets. "I would say we're not there yet. Whether we get there or not, I don't know."
Hagel's disclosure comes amid reports of western troops already engaging in combat against the Islamic State, despite having been sent to Iraq in an ostensibly non-combat capacity. On January 20, the Wall Street Journal reported that Canadian troops had exchanged fire with the Islamic State after coming under mortar attack from the militants, and responded with sniper fire, "neutralizing the mortar and the machine-gun position," according to Brigadier General Michael Rouleau, commander of the Canadian Special Operations Force Command. The Canadian troops, send on a mission to train local Iraqi forces, came under attack after moving to the front line "to visualize what they had discussed over a map," the Brigadier told the paper.
On December 20, according to Bloomberg, al-Jazeera TV reported that US troops from al-Assad military base, the biggest in Anbar, Iraq's largest governate, clashed with militants while helping the Iraqi army repel attacks on the town of al-Baghdadi. A US military official told Bloomberg that although US troops can engage in self-defense if required, their mission is to prepare and support the Iraqi security forces in fighting IS, rather than to engage them militarily.
In November Hagel said he would consider a recommendation from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, to send ground troops to Iraq, if Dempsey were to make such a proposal. "If we get to any other variation of recommendations from General Dempsey, we will deal with it, but we are not there yet," Hagel told CNN. In September, General Dempsey told the Senate Armed Services Committee that "If we reach the point where I believe our advisers should accompany Iraqi troops on attacks against specific [Islamic State] targets, I’ll recommend that to the president," the Washington Post reported.
Lieutenant General James Terry, the US commander of Operation Inherent Resolve against militants in Iraq and Syria, told Reuters in December that the up to 3,100 troops already authorized by President Obama to deploy to Iraq were to be joined by another 1,500 troops from allies of the US, to help train and advise Iraqi and Kurdish forces fighting IS.