Top US general tells troops battle against Isis is 'starting to turn'

General Martin Dempsey told troops they have helped ‘pull Iraq back from the precipice’

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Top US General Martin Dempsey has told troops in Iraq that the battle against Isis is “starting to turn”, but he believes the campaign against the militant group will last several years.

In an unannounced visit to the US troops, General Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called the militants “midgets,” and said the US military had helped Iraq and Kurdish forces to “pull Iraq back from the precipice,” Reuters news agency reported.

“And now, I think it’s starting to turn. So well done,” he said.

His visit followed news on Friday that Iraqi forces have recaptured the refinery town of Baiji from Isis (also known as Islamic State), driving the militants out and breaking the siege of the giant oil refinery nearby, marking a significant success for the Iraqi government.

General Dempsey flew into Baghdad for talks with Iraq officials to check the US military’s progress against the militants.

He said it had been crucial to show that Isis was not an unstoppable, 10 ft tall force and instead “a bunch of midgets running around with really radical ideology”.

Around 1,400 US troops are now in Iraq, with authorisation by President Obama for the deployment of up to 3,100.

But General Dempsey said the fight could take “several years” and that US military forces could not root out Isis unless Iraq’s government manages to work across the Sunny-Shi’ite divide.

Additional reporting by Reuters