President Barack Obama made a statement from the White House on Saturday to discuss the ongoing military operations taking place in Iraq to combat jihadists affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS or ISIL). In his statement, Obama reiterated his claim American airstrikes and humanitarian efforts are focused on two “immediate” goals — protecting diplomatic personnel and military advisors in the Iraqi city of Erbil and providing aid and protection to members of the Yazidi religious minority trapped on a mountain in the northern part of the country by ISIS fighters. However, the president declined to commit to a specific timetable for military operations in Iraq.
“This will be a long-term project,” Obama said.
Following his remarks, reporters asked Obama if he would set a deadline for the end of these military operations in Iraq. The president said he would not “give a particular timetable” in order to allow him to protect American diplomatic personnel in Iraq “wherever and whenever” they were threatened.
“We’re not moving our embassy any time soon, we’re not moving our counsulate any time soon,” said Obama.
In addition to the two immediate goals of the military operations, Obama said he wanted to prevent ISIS from establishing a “safe haven” in Iraq. He also said the mission to protect the Yazidis from ISIS would also include the “complicated next step” of helping the group get “safe passage” from the mountain and finding a destination for their “ultimate relocation.”
Obama said the initial military operations to counter ISIS in Iraq have been successful.
“So far, these strikes have successfully destroyed arms and equipment,” Obama said, adding there were two drops of food, water, and supplies to the Yazidis.
Obama also indicated he spoke with British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande and both leaders expressed “strong support” for the humanitarian mission. He did not address whether Cameron and Hollande committed to providing military support.
When he took questions from reporters after his statement, Obama admitted his administration may have underestimated the capabilities of ISIS. However, the president angrily disputed the idea he could have prevented the rise of ISIS by keeping American troops in Iraq.
“There is no doubt that their advance, their movement over the past several months has been more rapid than the intelligence estimates and the expectations of policymakers,” Obama said of ISIS, adding, “Part of that is, I think, not a full appreciation of the degree to which the Iraqi security forces, when they’re far away from Baghdad, did not have the incentive or capacity to hold ground against an aggressive adversary.”
Obama repeatedly said the situation with ISIS demonstrated the need for Iraqis to form a new, more “inclusive” government.
“All Iraqi communities are ultimately threatened by these barbaric terrorists,” said Obama. “Ultimately, only Iraqis can ensure the security and stability of Iraq. The United States can’t do it for them, but we can and will be partners in that effort.”
The U.S. government has pushed for the ouster of Shiite Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki because of the belief he has marginalized the country’s Sunni minority.
Based on his comments about the limitations of Iraqi forces, Obama was asked whether he regretted withdrawing American troops from Iraq.
“That entire analysis is bogus and wrong,” Obama shot back.
The president claimed he found it “interesting” to see people suggest withdrawing troops from Iraq was his decision.
“Under the previous administration we had turned over the country to a sovereign, democratically elected Iraqi government,” Obama explained. “In order for us to maintain troops in Iraq we needed the invitation of the Iraqi government and we needed assurances our troops would be immune from prosecution.”
U.S. military forces withdrew from Iraq at the end of 2011 after the Iraqi government declined to negotiate a new Status of Forces Agreement with America.
This post was updated at 11:13 a.m.
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