The Obama administration had a deftly coordinated response to the sacking of Ramadi by ISIS: This, too, shall pass, and hopefully quickly so we don’t have to answer more questions about the failure.
Secretary of State John Kerry got the spin rolling early on a stop in South Korea, predicting that “as the forces are redeployed and as the days flow in the weeks ahead, that’s going to change, because overall in Iraq, Daesh has been driven back.”
“It is possible to have the kind of attack we’ve seen in , but I am absolutely confident in the days ahead that will be reversed,” Kerry said. “Large numbers of Daesh were killed in the last few days and will be in the next days, because that seems to be the only thing they understand. There is no negotiation. There is no proposal whatsoever to educate a child or build a school or a hospital or do something positive.” ISIS has launched the Islamic State Health Service and has been luring Western doctors to work in their hospitals, including Australian Dr. Tareq Kamleh.
“And I think the people of Iraq and the people of the region understand that, which is why every single country in the region, bar none, is opposed to Daesh and is engaged in fighting them,” Kerry added.
On board Air Force One en route to New Jersey today, White House spokesman Eric Schultz acknowledged ISIS’ seizure of Ramadi, 80 miles west of Baghdad, was a “setback.”
“But there’s also no denying that we will help the Iraqis take back Ramadi,” Schultz said. “The president is being kept up to date on the situation there. I don’t have any new strategy to preview or that’s under contemplation right now, because as we’ve said for a while now, this was going to be a long-term proposition, that there would be ebbs and flows in this fight.”
Part of the coalition’s counter-strategy, he said, is to give “advice to the Iraqi forces.” Airstrikes continued, but ISIS took the city despite the strikes. Eight had been conducted over the past 24 hours, he said.
“Our aircraft are in the air right now and searching for ISIL targets. They will continue to do so until Ramadi is retaken,” Schultz added.
The Pentagon issued no statements and held no press briefings today. Over at the State Department, spokesman Jeff Rathke repeated something stressed by Schultz: that at least Iraqi forces held in there in the face of 18 months of challenges of varying degrees.
“Starting late last week, ISIL launched a series of suicide vehicle bombs that had a large impact, and this also – and since then we’ve also heard from ISIL’s own comments that the suicide bombers were foreign fighters,” Rathke said. “We’ve always known that the fight would be long and difficult, especially in Anbar province, and so there’s no denying that this is a setback, but there’s also no denying that the United States will help the Iraqis take back Ramadi.”
Who’s poised to try to take Ramadi? About 3,000 Iran-backed Shiite militia members. However, ISIS has seized weapons and vehicles from the Iraqi 8th Army Brigade headquarters in Ramadi and is not waiting for an attack. They’ve reportedly advanced to outside Khalidiyah, about halfway between Ramadi and Fallujah. Shiite militias were on standby in Habbaniyah, one town over from Khalidiyah, according to BBC.
“There’s also no question that overall, since the formation of the international coalition to fight ISIL that ISIL has been driven back in Iraq. It has lost as much as 25 percent of the area that it once controlled… I think we’ll let the Iraqis define their strategic priorities. Clearly, it is important to retake Ramadi, and we are confident that Ramadi will be retaken,” Rathke said.
The majority of that territory, though, was retaken along Kurdish borders. And a reporter noted to Rathke that “the majority of Iraq is uninhabitable desert, so I don’t quite understand why you think it’s important to gain 25 percent of arid nothingness and lose a city of a million people.”
“I’m not trying to downplay the importance of Ramadi. I’m simply pointing out that over the last 12 months, the trend has been for ISIL to be pushed back in Iraq,” Rathke replied, adding that “Baghdad itself might even come under threat — we don’t have those fears now.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told MSNBC that the fall of Ramadi is “unfortunately terribly significant.”
At least 500 were said to have been killed Sunday in Ramadi, including mass executions, and thousands have fled their homes.
“I don’t know how much equipment, capabilities, armaments, tanks even, humvees” ISIS got, McCain said. “So we’ll have to start all over, I think, on training the Iraqi military and have a kind of a change in attitude on the part of the Iraqis that makes them understand the importance of good leadership and good training and that’s going to take, by the way, some American trainers.”
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered troops to holds their positions against ISIS on Sunday, and after the fall of Ramadi is now hoping troops will “not allow Daesh to extend to other areas,” his spokesman said.
President Obama did not mention Ramadi in his speech today on community policing and reducing the appearance of police militarization. He did, however, launch his first personal Twitter account and joke with Bill Clinton about whether he’d inherit the first lady’s Twitter handle, @FLOTUS.