Obama Sending 300 'Military Advisers' to Iraq, 'Significantly' Increases Intel Efforts
A senior administration official told reporters later that military action could be warranted "if we felt that there was a target on the ground that demanded our unique capabilities."
The initial team of military advisers will be tasked with assessing "both the state of the Iraqi security forces and assess the need and feasibility of any future advising teams."
"This is not unlike many other missions we perform around the world. We have special operators in more than 70 countries all around the world, and they're doing these kinds of advising, assisting, and assessing in places like Africa, the Americas, and even the Philippines," an official said. "So, and this is not an uncommon mission for these types of troops. They're well-equipped, well-trained for it, and that is what their orders are going to read when they get them."
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said he supported Obama's decision to deploy the personnel.
"These special operators will assess the situation on the ground, help evaluate gaps in Iraqi security forces, and increase their capacity to counter the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant," Hagel said in a statement. "However, as the president has repeatedly made clear, Iraq's problems cannot be resolved through American action alone, or through military force alone. The only viable, long-term solution is a political one that brings together the Iraqi people and addresses the legitimate interests and concerns of all of Iraq's communities. Iraq's government must summon the courage to unite and lead all of its people."
"The Department of Defense will continue to plan and prepare further military options should they become necessary, and we will remain ready to protect our diplomats, our citizens, and our interests in Iraq," he added.
Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said in a joint statement that Obama's "willingness to send U.S. military advisers to Iraq is a positive step, but more needs to be done."
“We are deeply concerned that the president continues to make political change in Iraq the prerequisite for greater U.S. military and other actions that could begin reversing the momentum of ISIS and improving the security situation in the country. It would obviously be ideal for Iraqi leaders to set aside their differences and embrace national reconciliation now, prior to a greater U.S. commitment to the security of the country," they said. "However, a key lesson of recent history in Iraq is that it is extremely difficult for Iraqis to make political progress when the security situation is deteriorating rapidly, as it is currently."
“ISIS is on the march. Radical Shia militias are gathering strength. Iraq’s Security Forces are struggling and, in places, failing. The country is descending into sectarian conflict. And Iraq’s dependence on Iran is deepening. We must act now to help Iraqis arrest their country’s descent into chaos, or the current crisis may soon spiral further out of control.”
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) called Obama's plan "a reasonable step to enable us to assess the security situation there," but "we should be extremely cautious about taking any actions beyond that step, such as air strikes."
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) stressed that Obama's "half-step" won't mitigate the risk.
"The American people are losing confidence in the president’s stewardship of our national security. Our adversaries and allies lost confidence a while ago. There isn’t going to be a perfect resolution to this crisis. I want to urge the president -- for once -- to make up his mind and commit to a comprehensive course of action in the region," McKeon said.
"As part of his approach, the president pledged to work closely with Congress to fund additional assets to Iraq from his new counter terrorism fund. Unfortunately, the president has yet to send a proposal to Congress, even though the law requires proposals of this kind to be submitted in February."
The chairman acknowledged that Iraq is rapidly spiraling out of control, "but if this fund has any merit, the president’s indecisiveness to date now means he has missed the primary opportunities for the House to consider this proposal."
"The Defense Authorization Act passed the House last month, the Defense Appropriations Act is up for a vote tonight. I am not sure how the president expects us to act if he refuses to send us a proposal."