U.S. President Barack Obama announced on Thursday that he is sending up to 300 troops to Iraq to help Iraqi military forces deal with an onslaught by radical Islamist terrorists, reports The Washington Post.
However, Obama stressed the troops would not be combat troops but would instead operate as “advisers” to the Iraqi forces.
“American forces will not be returning to combat in Iraq, but we will help Iraqis as they take the fight to terrorists who threaten the Iraqi people, the region and American interests as well,” Obama said in a statement from the White House Briefing Room.
He added that “we’ve positioned additional U.S. military assets in the region” and that increased intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance efforts are helping to develop “more information about potential targets” associated with insurgents of the radical Sunni Muslim group, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
“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,” he said, in an apparent reference to the prospect of U.S. airstrikes. But Obama emphasized that “the United States will not pursue military actions that support one sect inside of Iraq at the expense of another.”
In response to a question about the role of neighboring Iran, which is ruled by Shiite clerics, Obama said, “Iran can play a constructive role if it is helping to send the same message to the Iraqi government that we are sending, which is that Iraq only holds together if it is inclusive. . . . If Iran is coming in solely as an armed force on behalf of the Shia, and if it is framed in that fashion, then that probably worsens the situation.”
Obama so far has shown a highly inconsistent position on Iraq. Last Friday he committed to not sending troops to Iraq, only to send over 500 marines, dozens of helicopters, and the aircraft carrier George HW Bush into the Persian Gulf on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, he ruled out American airstrikes on ISIS, while hinting this was a possibility in Thursday’s speech.
Meanwhile, ISIS has continued to advance in Iraq. On Wednesday, the group seized control of Iraq's largest oil refinery and stormed the town of Baiji, bringing them closer to the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, seized by Kurdish militias last week in a bid to prevent it from falling to the Islamists.