President Barack Obama said Thursday he is sending up to 300 military advisers to Iraq to assist Iraqi security forces, as the country grapples with an escalating crisis amid an insurgence from Islamic militants.
Obama said in a statement from the White House that the U.S. will be prepared to take “targeted and precise” military action against insurgents if the situation on the ground requires it. But he stressed his moves did not preview a “mission creep” featuring more U.S. ground troops, and he continued to say that the only long-term solution in Iraq is a political one.
“American troops will not be fighting in Iraq again,” Obama said from the White House briefing room.
Obama also said the U.S. would continue to secure its embassy in Baghdad while stepping up its intelligence-gathering capabilities in the country, to get a “better picture of what’s taking place in Iraq.”
Obama’s statement was delayed significantly from an original anticipated start time of 12:30 p.m. ET. It came after he convened a meeting with members of his national security team Thursday morning, which lasted for more than two hours.
The Obama administration and some members of Congress have started to signal it would prefer an Iraqi government without Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, according to The Wall Street Journal. Obama said last week that any U.S. help must go along with political reform from Maliki, a Shiite who has presided over a volatile political climate. He stressed that point on Thursday.
“Above all, Iraqi leaders must rise above their differences and come together around a political plan for Iraq’s future. Shia, Sunni, Kurds, all Iraqis must have confidence that they can advance their interests and aspirations through the political process rather than through violence,” Obama said.
Insurgent militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group battled to seize control of Iraq’s largest oil refinery. Last week, ISIS took control of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, and its leader has boasted the group intends to march to Baghdad. Obama said it was in the U.S.’s interest to prevent a civil war in Iraq, given the potential effects of a safe haven for terrorists.
On Wednesday, Obama met with congressional leaders at the White House, where he spoke with them about the escalating crisis amid weighing options about U.S. involvement. The congressional leaders came away from the meeting saying they didn’t believe the options on the table necessitated congressional approval if Obama were to take them.
Obama is still mulling over options for U.S. involvement — though he has said he won’t send in U.S. ground troops, and airstrikes appear to be a declining possibility despite a public plea from the Iraqi government on Wednesday.
The U.S. is currently flying unmanned drones and manned F-18s over Iraq to collect surveillance, despite the fact that F-18s are primarily attack aircraft.
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