President Obama announced Thursday, June 19, after meeting his national security team, that the US would send up to 300 military advisers to help, advise and train Iraqi forces, and establish joint operations centers in Baghdad and the North. The US has been conducting “surveillance and reconnaissance missions for a better picture of the locations of ISIS forces,” he said.
US combat troops would not be returning to Iraq, said Obama firmly, but if regimes were in place in Syria and Iraq with inclusive agendas, the US would be willing to establish joint counter-terror platforms for regional partners to fight terrorism. He spoke of "targeted US military action if the situation required it" but only after consulting Congress and regional partners.
We talked to Iranians about their role in Iraq, Obama reported, and told them we hoped it would be constructive – unlike their posture in Syria which was on the side of a sectarian solution.
In its special video report earlier Thursday, debkafile reported:
By dispatching the USS George W.H. Bush to the northern Gulf this week, Obama recalled his tactics at the outset of the Syrian civil war in 2011. He first piled up a menacing armada opposite Syrian shores and told Bashar Assad he must go. But then, he backed away from intervening in the Syrian crisis after all. Is that fro-and-back pattern being repeated in Iraq?
How to interpret the posting of a US warship opposite Iraq on June 15 and, for that matter, Barack Obama’s comment two days earlier: “We do have a stake in making sure these jihadists are not getting a permanent foothold in either Syria or Iraq.”
Has he again developed cold feet? The CIA and Pentagon have explained they have not been able to determine the exact makeup of Al Qaeda’s ISIS – the Islamist State in Iraq and the Levant which has swallowed up much of Iraq’s Sunni heartland link.
According to DEBKA’s military and intelligence sources, the Islamists advancing on Baghdad are not one, but two armies: The Al Qaeda element has been joined by a hodgepodge of Sufi groups, Saddam Hussein’s old Baath Party guard, and US-trained Sunni Awakening Council tribes.
Iraq Wednesday formally requested US air support, including drone strikes and more surveillance. According to some reports, Washington will hold back anything more substantial that a hundred or so Special Operations personnel as non-combat military instructors for Iraq's army.
Anyway, Al Qaeda lacks the fixed formations of a professional army, making it an elusive target for pinpointed attacks. So the jihadis’ advance may prove unstoppable and even if Baghdad survives, it may be too beleaguered to function as Iraq’s capital.
Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki is hardly posed to meet US expectations for setting up a national unity government to heal the strife. The Obama administration would much prefer to see al Maliki step aside and that may be one of its conditions for substantial military aid.
As the situation is developing now, Iraq is more likely to break up into pseudo states as a result of the Al Qaeda led Sunni revolt against Maliki’s regime. A Kurdish state in the north, a Shiite state in the south, and Al Qaeda and Sunni statelets in western, central and eastern Iraq, up to Baghdad’s outskirts.
ISIS also has plans to send its heavily indoctrinated foreign recruits back to their own countries primed for terror: “The people in that regime, as well as trying to take territory, are also planning to attack us here at home in the United Kingdom.”
Al Qaeda’s success in the face of Obama’s vacillations may infect Iraq’s neighbors with an epidemic of instability..