Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told Marines at Camp Pendleton yesterday that President Obama “has authorized me to go ahead and send about 130 new assessment team members up to northern Iraq in the Erbil area to take a closer look and give a more in-depth assessment of where we can continue to help the Iraqis with what they’re doing and the threats that they are now dealing with.”
“I would tell you that, as you know what’s going on in Iraq, for example, that we are focused once again on assisting the Iraqis. They have — are in the process of forming a new government, as you know, which is going to be the centerpiece of how that government is going to be able to deal with what’s going on there, the specific threats of ISIL and the other realities that are now confronting the people of Iraq,” he said.
“…The Iraqi people, the government of Iraq, country of Iraq is now under threat from some of the most brutal, barbaric forces we’ve ever seen in the world today, and a force, ISIL, and others that is an ideology that’s connected to an army and it’s a force and a dimension that the world has never seen before like we have seen it now.”
Hagel told the Marines that Obama “made some decisions on, first, on the basis of protecting our people and our interest in Iraq, and also on the basis of humanitarian assistance, we’re doing an awful lot, and we’ll do more, as we continue to support the process now underway to form their new government.”
The secretary said the additional 130 advisers were approved after his recommendation to the president, and have already arrived in Erbil.
“I would also say it follows the criteria that President Obama has made very clearly, that this is not any extension of any role other — for the United States other than to find ways to assist and help advise the Iraqi security forces, which we have been doing,” Hagel continued.
“As the president has made very clear, we’re not going back into Iraq in any of the same combat mission dimensions that we once were in, in Iraq. Very specifically, this is not a combat boots-on-the-ground operation. We’re not going to have that kind of operation, but short of that, there are some things we can continue to do, and we are doing, and I just wanted you to know that, because that team of 130 new assessors that just arrived in Erbil, it’s a inter-service team, but there are a lot of Marines on that team.”
Still, the first question posed to the Defense secretary was “given the current situation in both Iraq and Israel” why he doesn’t see the need for boots on the ground.
“Well, as I just mentioned, boots-on-the-ground regarding Iraq, the president said we’re not going to do that. And the mission that we had in Iraq on fighting that war and combat mission is over. And he’s been very clear about that,” Hagel replied.
“But also, if you recall, the Iraqi people made some decisions on their own sovereignty on that count. As to boots-on-the-ground in Israel, no, we’re not going to do that,” he continued. “Just a reminder, what we’re doing in Iraq now is at the request of the Iraqi government. Every one of the decisions that president has ultimately made [are] recommendations I’ve made to him, the most recent I just mentioned, the 130-member assessment team going — that’s now in Erbil.”
“We are working with the Iraqi government at their request to help them. We work, obviously, with the Israeli government, as we do with all governments on our relationships of what we can do. But no boots on the ground in Iraq and Israel.”
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