Obama will send up to 1,500 troops to Iraq
The troops will be in non-combat roles and operate from bases outside Baghdad and Erbil
The troops will help train Iraqi and Kurdish forces to fight ISIS
President Barack Obama is sending up to 1,500 more soldiers to Iraq to train Iraqi and Kurdish forces to fight ISIS, in a deployment that would almost double the total number of American troops there to 2,900.
The White House said in a statement that it will also ask Congress for another $5.6 billion to fund the fight against ISIS. The troops will not have a combat role, and will operate from bases outside Baghdad and Erbil.
To date, Anbar province and Taji district have been considered as two likely locations for operations centers outside of Baghdad and Erbil. CNN reported last week that the military was preparing plans to deploy U.S. advisers to Anbar, much of which is under the control of ISIS.
“The President took these decisions at the request of the Iraqi Government and upon the recommendation of Secretary Hagel and his military commanders based upon the assessed needs of the Iraqi Security Forces,” the statement said.
“We believe this request is an opportunity for Congress and this Administration to work together to provide the additional resources needed to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL and I look forward to working with Congress to secure this funding,” said Shaun Donovan, Obama’s budget director.
The budget request marks an early test for cooperation between Obama and congressional leaders following the Republican rout in this week’s midterm elections that reshaped Washington’s balance of power.
It includes $1.6 billion to establish a fund to develop and support Iraqi and Kurdish security forces as they gear up to mount a counter offensive against ISIS, which has carved out a so-called caliphate in vast swathes of Iraq and Syria.
The requests are based on an assessment of Iraqi security forces made by US Central Command, said Pentagon spokesman, Rear Admiral John Kirby.
CENTCOM will set up training centers for nine Iraqi army and three Kurdish Peshmerga brigades, Kirby said.
He said that Obama took the decision to go ahead and almost double the number of trainers and advisers following a request from the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi. He said that the mission was possible because Iraqi forces, which were built with billions of dollars in US funding, and partially folded in the face of the ISIS advance, had “stiffened” their spines.
“We are going in at the request of the Iraqi government. We are wanted there,” said Kirby
“There is a very acute threat that is facing the Iraqi people and the Iraqi government.”
The White House has insisted that the US operation against ISIS will not include “boots on the ground.” But the new announcement by an administration that made ending foreign wars a core of its foreign policy is likely to fuel new concerns of “mission creep” among the president’s critics.
But Steny Hoyer, Democratic House minority whip, told CNN’s “The Lead with Jake Tapper” that he would back the funding.
“I don’t think this is mission creep,” he said.
A Republican congressional source complained that the administration had not formally briefed senior lawmakers on Capitol Hill over the new funding and troop request.
Howard ‘Buck’ McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services committee, said that he would consider the request, but warned that the president’s strategy to combat ISIS was insufficient.
“I would urge the President to reconsider his strategy and clearly explain how this additional funding supports a new direction. Such clarity is more likely to find swift congressional approval,” he said in a statement.
The top U.S. military commander in the fight against ISIS insisted on Thursday that airstrikes are working to erode the radical Islamic group’s capabilities.
“I’m confident we’re having the desired effects,” said Army Gen. Lloyd Austin.
He said that ISIS fighters were afraid to congregate in any sizable formation in Syria and Iraq amid fears they could be target by US and allied aircraft.
A senior US defense official meanwhile told CNN this week that the administration had not ruled out expanding the war in Syria to another radical group, the Al-Qaeda affilitated al-Nusra.
Such a move would be intended to repel its advances against moderate Syria rebels on which Washington has anchored its strategy of battling ISIS.