WASHINGTON - US President Barack Obama on Thursday said he was ready to send 300 military advisors to Iraq and if necessary to take ‘targeted’ and ‘precise’ military action to counter radical Sunni fighters.
Speaking to reporters from the White House Briefing Room, Obama said the green berets would be focused on training Iraqi troops to fight back against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the Sunni, al-Qaeda inspired extremist group that has captured several cities and has its sights set on Baghdad. He emphasised that the US was not returning to a fight it waged for eight years before a 2011 withdrawal, but was focused on training and helping foster a diplomatic solution to the current crisis.
‘American forces will not be returning to combat in Iraq,’ President Obama cautioned, but he said US troops will help the Iraqi army ‘take the fight’ to the insurgents threatening the country. Obama stopped short of ordering air strikes but said he is prepared to take ‘targeted and precise’ strikes if required, in consultation with Congress.
Asked if the fresh commitment of troops could lead to a buildup of even more US forces, Obama said, ‘I think we always have to guard against mission creep. American combat troops are not going to be fighting in Iraq again.’ ‘We do not have the ability to simply solve this problem by sending in tens of thousands of troops and committing the kinds of blood and treasure that has already been expended in Iraq,’ the president said. ‘It is in our national interests not to see an all-out civil war in Iraq.’
Replying to a question, Obama said Iran can play a constructive role in Iraq if it sends a message that Iraq’s government must be inclusive and respect the interests of Sunnis and Kurds. He said that’s the same message the United States is sending. But Obama says if Iran comes into the conflict solely as an armed force backing the Shia-led government, its involvement would probably worsen the situation. Iran’s leaders, he said, have a decision to make about what role to play there. He says Tehran should consider whether its view of the region is solely through sectarian frames. He says if that’s the case, Iran could find itself fighting in lots of places in the world. The announcement about troop deployment came after Obama held a hastily arranged meeting with his national security team Thursday in the White House situation room, including Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel, CIA Director John Brennan, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, Vice President Joseph Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry and national security adviser Susan Rice.
The administration also is signalling that it wants a new government in Baghdad without Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the Shia leader whom has been unable to include many minority Sunnis in his government. Baghdad has been urging Obama since last August to conduct air strikes against the Sunni militants, but the president has rejected those appeals.
The troop announcement Thursday was nevertheless a turnabout under pressure for Obama, who is confronted with a swiftly advancing militants in Iraq after taking credit for withdrawing all US troops three years ago and ending the war there. Lawmakers in both parties have been urging Obama to come up with a plan as the fighters loyal to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant seized major cities.
in orthern Iraq and threaten to establish a safe haven for their brand of Islamic extremism.
On Wednesday, the militants attacked Iraq’s biggest oil refinery. The president has said repeatedly that he is not sending combat troops to Iraq, although earlier this week he ordered up to 275 combat-ready US troops to that country to protect the embassy and help with relocating Americans there.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, said the crisis in Iraq is a direct result of Obama’s eagerness to disengage militarily from trouble spots around the world. ‘The threat from Al Qaeda and other affiliated groups has now metastasized,’ McConnell said on the Senate floor Thursday. ‘The dogged adherence to withdrawing our conventional strength and sticking to campaign promises has created a more dangerous world, not a more stable one.’
Prior to the president’s announcement, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, said she was wary of sending special operations forces to Iraq but said Obama didn’t need congressional authorization. You have to be careful sending special forces because it’s a number that has a tendency to grow,’ she said. ‘In any situation under any president I would say let’s proceed cautiously in that regard.