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SecDef Hagel: 130-member team to assess Iraq's 'squandered opportunity'

Aug. 12, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Secretary of Defense Visits Camp Pendleton
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel speaks during an Aug. 12 town hall meeting aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif. (Lance Cpl. John Baker / Marine Corps)
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Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said a 130-member “assessment team” that arrived in Iraq Tuesday is charged with making a full-evaluation of the increasingly violent situation in northern Iraq. From there they’ll provide advice on the crisis to the president and cabinet-level officials in the United States.

But Hagel stopped short of saying how the assessment team’s evaluation will turn into a course of action, other than that there will not be a ground-combat mission in Iraq.

“The president has made it very clear: We’re not going back into Iraq with any of the same combat mission dimensions that we were once in in Iraq. Very specifically, this is not a combat, boots-on-the-ground operation. We’re not going to have that kind of operation. But short of that, there are some things we will continue to do,” he said during an audience with Marines at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California.

The assessment team will work with Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, the head of Central Command, and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They’re charged with evaluating the crisis in Iraq with jihadist group Islamic State, an organization Hagel called “one of the most brutal and barbaric forces we’ve ever seen in this world today.”

The team is also expected to evaluate the humanitarian and political situation in Iraq as the country goes through a leadership transition and forms a new government.

Hagel said it’s important for the new government to represent the entirety of Iraq in order to gain support. A part of the reason that Iraq’s old government and security forces failed was because it wasn’t inclusive, he said.

Under embattled Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki “the Iraqi government really squandered an opportunity in the last five years to build an inclusive government,” that involved Sunnis, Shias and Kurds, Hagel said.

“The Iraqi government, under Maliki, has to take considerable responsibility for this,” he said.

The 130-member team is in addition to the 650 troops that previously arrived in Iraq. They are charged with training the country’s forces, bolstering security at the American Embassy and protecting the airport in Baghdad.

Hagel made his comments at the Marine Corps base in Southern California, his last destination in a worldwide tour that included stops in Germany, India and Australia.

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