President Obama speaks about the situation in Iraq on June 19at the White House. Obama said the U.S. will send up to 300 military advisers to Iraq, set up joint operation centers. (Jacquelyn Martin/The Associated Press)
Crisis in Iraq
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Saying that an “all-out civil war” in Iraq could endanger U.S. security interests, President Obama on Thursday announced plans to send up to 300 military advisers into the crumbling nation and step up intelligence efforts to respond to the growing insurgent threat there.
But the commander in chief emphasized that the steps do not foreshadow another lengthy U.S. military operation there, promising that “American combat troops are not going to be fighting in Iraq again.”
The moves come after steady advances in northern Iraq by fighters with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, radical insurgents spilling across the Syrian border who have already seized a number of Iraqi cities and defense sites.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has requested U.S. air support to deal with the growing threat, but Obama on Thursday committed only to repositioning American forces to be ready for such a response.
For now, additional military operations in the region will focus only on securing U.S. embassies, collecting intelligence on ISIL movements, and coordinating that strategic information with Iraqi forces.
Obama said American planners will not mandate how Iraq’s fledgling democracy develops, saying they’re “a sovereign country with their own politics.”
But he did take several shots at al-Maliki, saying that the existing government needs to do a better job of unifying Iraq’s deep political and religious divisions in order to survive.
“There is not going to be a simple military solution to this issue,” he said. “If you see the separate groups just go to their corners, Baghdad will not be able to control large areas of the country. ... Right now, there’s too much suspicion, too much mistrust.”
Obama said the deployment of U.S. military advisers to Iraq is designed not only to aid the Iraqi government’s security response but also to protect American interests, by better tracking — and undermining — the long-term threat posed by ISIL.
“We want to make sure we are vindicating the enormous effort and sacrifice that was made by our troops” from 2003 to 2011, Obama said.
Senior administration officials said the military advisers will be made of special operators sent in small groups to embed “at the higher levels of Iraqi security forces.” Their focus will be providing broad support to forces fighting ISIL insurgents, and compiling information for U.S. intelligence efforts and possible future airstrikes.
Several dozen of the advisers will arrive in Iraq “very soon,” according to the officials. Troops being deployed to the country will come from units already deployed in the region under U.S. Central Command.
The officials also noted that other military options — such as airstrikes — have not been ruled out, but would be used only if Pentagon planners believe U.S. national security interests are at stake and U.S. forces are needed to conduct the “targeted” strikes.
But they said that could include action in Iraq or Syria, where ISIL forces also have a considerable presence.?