President Barack Obama reiterated today that American troops will not be going back to Iraq to help quell a militant Islamic insurgency threatening to destabilize the whole country.
“We do not have the ability to simply solve this problem by sending in tens of thousands of troops and committing the kind of blood and treasure that has already been expended in Iraq,”the president said this afternoon during a White House news conference.
But Obama admitted it did not serve U.S. interests to see the country slide into an all-out civil war either. To help prevent losing all of the gains made during almost 10 years of fighting for Iraq’s stability and independence, the president will send up to 300 military advisors to help the government in Baghdad train, advise, and support Iraqi security forces. U.S. intelligence agencies also have increased their intelligence-gathering, surveillance, and reconnaissance in and around the country to better understand what’s going on, he said. In addition to sending more equipment for Iraqi forces, the United States will open joint operations centers in Baghdad and other parts of the country to facilitate intelligence sharing.
Militants with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) pose a threat to the Iraqi people, the region, and U.S. interests, Obama said. But quashing the group’s sudden rise to prominence requires an Iraqi political solution, he said, adding that the only leaders who can govern Iraq are those with an inclusive agenda who can bring the country’s three factions—Sunni, Shiite, and Kurds—together to get them through this crisis.
ISIL’s reach into Iraq is fueled in part by Sunni dissatisfaction with the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Obama said that because the Iraqi government has not reached out to Sunni tribes, they feel like their interests are not being served, and until all three factions are committed to a fair and just governance, the government in Baghdad will not be able to control huge chunks of the country.
The president acknowledged that the recent violence in Iraq has reignited debate at home and abroad about America’s role in the country and its decision to pull troops out in 2011. The war left deep scars, both in America and in Iraq, he said, adding that the current situation and the debate about whether America has an obligation to do anything about it should remind us that we need to ask hard questions before taking action abroad.
Although Obama was adamant that U.S. troops would not be returning to Iraqi soil, he did not rule out some form of strategic airstrikes, noting that he had positioned military assets in the region.
“We are prepared to take targeted and precise action if and when we determine the situation on the ground warrants it,”the president said. “But the best and most effective response to a threat like ISIL will involve local forces taking the lead.”