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Obama to Put “Boots on the Ground” In Iraq?

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John Burger - published on 06/11/15

Administration announces new troops to help Iraq fight ISIS

Are these the "boots on the ground" that President Barack Obama swore he would not send to fight the Islamic State group?

They are being called trainers, but today’s announcement that the Obama administration is planning to establish a new military base in Anbar Province, Iraq, and to send up to 450 more American military personnel to help Iraqi forces retake the city of Ramadi led at least one online commenter to cry "Mission creep!"

The White House said Wednesday that President Obama has authorized the Pentagon to send the additional troops in an effort to beef up the training of Iraqi security forces in their fight against the so-called Islamic State. In a statement, Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the military personnel will "train, advise, and assist Iraqi Security Forces at Taqaddum military base in eastern Anbar province."

The plan will focus on recapturing Ramadi and later, possibly not until 2016, move on Mosul, the New York Times reported:

The additional American troops will arrive as early as this summer, a United States official said, and will focus on training Sunni fighters with the Iraqi Army. The official called the coming announcement “an adjustment to try to get the right training to the right folks.”…

The United States Central Command’s emphasis on retaking Mosul depended critically on efforts to retrain the Iraqi Army, which appear to have gotten off to a slow start. Some Iraqi officials also thought the schedule for taking Mosul was unrealistic, and some bridled when an official from the Central Command 
told reporters in February
 that an assault to capture the city was planned for this spring.

Mosul fell to the Islamic State group June 10, 2014, setting off an exodus of Christians and other religious minorities from their ancestral homes in Northern Iraq. Most have been living as internally displaced persons in and around Erbil, in the Kurdish area of Iraq, for almost a year. 

On the first anniversary of the fall of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako of Babylon of the Chaldeans, issued a message to express his closeness in prayer to the IDPs, along with the hope "that you can return home soon, in the land of your fathers." He urged Iraqi political leaders to work sincerely for reform and reconciliation. Only the prospect of national reconciliation, he said, will put an end to the tragedy.

The Patriarch added that the Church will continue to support IDPs and refugees in neighboring countries both materially and spiritually.

Wednesday’s announcement comes amid continuing concern that the United States lacks a strategy for dealing with the Islamic State threat. On Monday, in fact, Obama said at the G7 summit in Germany that the US does not yet have a "complete strategy" for helping Iraq regain territory from ISIS—he said there is a lack of commitment from the Iraqis themselves.

It was at the summit that he met on the sidelines with Iraq’s Prime Minister, Haider Al-Abadi. According to White House spokesman Earnets, Obama made the decision on the additional troops after a request from Abadi and upon the recommendation of Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey, "and with the unanimous support of his national security team."

The US now has about 3,000 troops, including trainers and advisers, in Iraq, the Times noted. But critics such as Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., say the US needs to do more, such as using American spotters on the battlefield to call in airstrikes in and around Ramadi. The Obama Administration has not approved that, nor has it approved the use of Apache helicopter gunships to help Iraqi troops retake the city.

Reuters on Wednesday explained that U.S. forces have already conducted training at the al-Asad military base in western Anbar but U.S. officials said planning was underway for a new installation near the town of Habbaniya, the site of an Iraqi army base. "A new site would allow U.S. trainers to provide greater support for Sunni tribal fighters, who have yet to receive all of the backing and arms promised by the Shi’ite-led government in Baghdad," Reuters said. 

The news service quoted anonymous U.S. officials saying they hope that even a modestly strengthened U.S. presence could help Iraqi forces plan and carry out a counter-attack to retake Ramadi. But Obama was expected to stick to his stance against sending U.S. troops into combat or even close to the front lines, officials said.

Additionally, the White House announcement comes a week before the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The Institute for the Study of War recently issued an "intelligence forecast" that noted ISIS’s track record of conducting major offensive operations during Ramadan, "accomplishing its major annual campaign objectives."

"Its predecessor, al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), had historically also elevated violence in Iraq during Ramadan," the report said. "ISIS is therefore likely preparing a surge of operations to try to achieve important campaign objectives. ISIS can also be expected to commemorate its declaration of a Caliphate on the first full day of Ramadan 2014 by trying to build upon or surpass its declaration of the caliphate last year. ISIS could do so by accomplishing new military objectives, striking religious targets, or announcing a new political milestone. Regardless, ISIS is likely to begin and end Ramadan with attempted spectacular military offensive actions in Iraq and Syria."

Tags:
IraqIslamist MilitantsMosulPolitics
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