Obama Sending 1,500 Additional Troops to Iraq

Photograph by Getty Images

President Barack Obama has approved doubling the U.S. military force in Iraq and allowing troops to venture beyond headquarters already established in Baghdad and Erbil, in an escalation of the U.S. effort to defeat Islamic State extremists.

Obama also is asking Congress to approve $5.6 billion in added Pentagon and State Department spending to fight the Sunni militants who have seized a swath of Iraq and Syria.

The president’s approval to send as many as 1,500 personnel is in addition to 1,600 he previously authorized, 1,400 of whom are in Iraq today protecting U.S. facilities and assisting the Iraqi military. Troops that have been confined to Baghdad, the capital, and Erbil in Kurdish northern Iraq now will be permitted to train and advise Iraqi forces at a number of Iraqi military facilities, according to a White House statement.

“U.S. troops will not be in combat, but they will be better positioned to support Iraqi security forces as they take the fight” to the Sunni extremists, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said today in the statement.

The first added troops will advise Iraqi forces in Anbar province, the location of the most intense fighting in Iraq, according to a defense official who asked not to be identified discussing deployment plans. Others will train and assist in northern Iraq, the official said.

Funding Sought

Obama’s funding request to Congress calls for $3.4 billion for U.S. operations against Islamic State, according to a White House statement. An additional $1.6 billion is being sought to train and equip Iraqi and Kurdish security forces, while $520 million is being requested for State Department operations against the extremist group.

The request for more funds and troops was disclosed as Obama met at the White House with congressional leaders after Republican victories in this week’s midterm election. Obama said on Nov. 5 that he wants to discuss cooperation on issues, including his new request for a vote to explicitly authorize the U.S. airstrikes that began in September in Iraq and Syria.

While welcoming Obama’s decision to seek authorization, Republican House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement today that presidents traditionally have written such a proposed resolution, sent it to Congress and “worked to build bipartisan support for its passage.”

If Obama takes that approach, Boehner said, “House Republicans will be ready to work with him to get it approved.”

Source of Friction

The commitment of U.S. forces to the war against Islamic State has been a growing source of friction between the White House and the Pentagon, according to defense and intelligence officials.

Three officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters and internal policy debates, said that military officials, backed by U.S. intelligence assessments, have argued for months that more American troops are needed to train, support and assist the Iraqi military in the fight to halt the extremists’ advances, defend strategic targets such as the Baiji oil refinery and the Haditha Dam, and in time begin retaking areas such as Mosul that have fallen.

While airstrikes alone have been helpful, the officials said, they are insufficient. One of them compared the president’s order to “degrade and ultimately defeat” Islamic State while not committing U.S. combat forces to being ordered to pound in a nail without being given a hammer.

Combat Risks

The Iraqi security forces, the officials said, are demoralized and poorly led. They said there’s no quick fix to the dilemma, and the only answer to stemming Islamic State’s advances is sending more American and allied forces to advise and assist the Iraqis.

Asked if assisting could extend to combat situations, one of the officials said that it inevitably will, regardless of Obama’s vow not to send combat troops back to Iraq.

The increased funds to fight Islamic State would be an amendment to the administration’s pending $58.6 billion war operations budget for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1.

The cost of U.S. air operations over Iraq and Syria as of Oct. 16 averaged $8.3 million a day, or $580 million since they began Aug. 8. The U.S and allies have flown more than 8,000 missions through Nov. 3, including combat strikes that have dropped or launched 2,178 munitions, according to U.S. Central Command.

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