U.S. President Barack Obama says his decision to double the number of American forces in Iraq signals a new phase in the campaign to defeat radical Islamic militants who have seized large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria. Obama made the remarks in a rare Sunday appearance on a U.S. television news program.
The president who promised to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq is sending 1,500 additional forces to boost the training and equipping of Iraq’s military in the fight against Islamic State (IS or ISIL) militants, saying that “what [the move] signals is a new phase.”
“We are now in a position to start going on some offense. The [U.S.-led] airstrikes have been very effective in degrading ISIL’s capabilities and slowing the advance they were making. Now, what we need is ground troops, Iraqi ground troops, that can start pushing them back,” said Obama, appearing on CBS’s Face the Nation television program.
Many Republican critics of the president continue to doubt the ability of Iraqi forces to stand up to the Islamic State, even with U.S. and international support. Congressman Darrell Issa is among the skeptics.
“When it comes to the Sunni-Shia divide that the [former Nouri al-] Maliki government created, it makes it very, very hard to put together the kind of military units that they should have. That remains to be seen, whether or not the substantial portion of the 800,000 people we trained are willing to fight. The fact is, by the time they (Iraqi forces) started fleeing (from Islamic State militants), we were down to a quarter million (Iraqi troops),” said Issa.
The Pentagon says the added U.S. forces will train nine Iraqi military brigades and three Kurdish peshmerga brigades over the coming year.
Meanwhile, U.S. airstrikes against Islamic State positions continue. While boosting U.S. forces deployed to Iraq, President Obama continues to insist American troops will not be engaged in combat there.