WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork/AP) — President Barack Obama on Thursday said he was dispatching up to 300 military advisers to Iraq to help quell the rising insurgency in the crumbling state.
The president called on Iraqi leaders to govern with a more “inclusive agenda” to ensure the country does not descend into civil war.
Obama left open the option of “targeted” military action in the future and said the U.S. also would increase its intelligence efforts in Iraq and was prepared to create joint operations centers with Iraqis.
“Going forward we will be prepared to take targeted and precise military action if and when we determine that the situation on the ground requires it,” the president said.
But he was adamant that U.S. troops would not be returning to combat in Iraq.
“We do not have the ability to simply solve this problem by sending in tens of thousands of troops and committing the kinds of blood and treasure that has already been expended in Iraq,” Obama told reporters in the White House briefing room. “Ultimately, this is something that is going to have to be solved by Iraqis.”
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Meanwhile, Internet videos claim to show Islamic militants celebrating in a northern Iraqi town after taking control of the country’s largest oil refinery.
Iraq’s government denied the reports and said it had killed dozens of al Qaeda-inspired fighters who have vowed to attack Baghdad and set up an Islamic state.
As insurgents move closer to the capital, military commanders in Iraq say the West must help stop the insurgency.
“This war will come back and bite them,” Lahor Talabani, senior Kurdish military commander, said. “Back in Europe and the States.”
The U.S. withdrew the last American troops from Iraq in late 2011 after more than eight years of war. The withdrawal came after Washington and Baghdad were unable to reach an agreement to extend the U.S. troop presence.
But faced with a growing Sunni insurgency, Iraq’s government has asked the U.S. to launch airstrikes to contain a militant group that seized Mosul, Tikrit and other towns in Iraq as the country’s military melted away.
At this point, American fighter jets are carrying out surveillance flights over Iraq, but military experts said the U.S. is probably not ready to strike with air power.
“The air power is only effective if we know what the targets that we are going to hit and we have no coordination with Iraqi people, who we are working with. We have no idea what the target environment is,” said retired Army Maj. Mike Lyons.
Even before the president spoke, House Speaker John Boehner blasted the administration, saying it had known for months about the trouble in Iraq, and that terrorism had spread all around the region, CBS 2’s Dick Brennan reported.
“As you may recall after the last election I said I hoped that the president would seize this moment and take the lead,” said Boehner (R-Ohio). “Here we are a year and a half later and you look at this presidency and you can’t help but get the sense that the wheels are coming off.”
The White House is now left with nothing but hard choices in Iraq.
“There are no quick fixes from a military point of view … time and planning and then if we are going to engage them,” Lyons said.
Thousands of Iraqi Shiites have signed up with Iraq’s army to join the fight against the Sunni militant insurgency.
Militants now have their hands on armored vehicles and tanks that they took from Iraqi soldiers who left their posts.
Obama discussed his options Wednesday with congressional leaders, who told him they do not believe he needs authorization from Congress for some steps he might take to quell the al Qaeda-inspired insurgency.
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