President Barack Obama needs to order a military strike against the Iraq insurgency soon, before things get worse in Iraq and the region, said one of the top former United States military commanders of the war.
"I vote for sooner and we must strike them with a hard blow," said Retired Marine Corps Gen. John Allen, who was deputy commanding general of Multi-National Forces-West in Anbar province from 2006 to 2008, and helped lead the Anbar Awakening, which turned the tide of the Iraq War. Allen said the U.S. has "an obligation" to help the Iraqis now that terrorists from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, have taken over large swaths of Iraq more than two years after the war officially ended and U.S. troops left.
"The U.S. will have to act to stop this onslaught. After all we've invested in Iraq's stability, including nearly 4,500 American lives, we have an obligation, and indeed we have the capability, to help now," Allen told Defense One.
"We did not ask for this emergency, but it is upon us, and this is a moment for U.S. strategic leadership. The Iraqis badly need our help, and our friends and partners in the region are, once again, turning to the U.S. for leadership and decisive action," he said.
Allen, who was also top commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan in 2011 and also served as acting commander of CENTCOM in 2010, said that events are unfolding so quickly in Iraq that the U.S. national security team needs to approve "rapid action" to combat the wider security threat of ISIS and other factions spreading in the region.
"This issue is not solely about Iraq," he said. "It's about the broader spread of al-Qaeda and ISIS and ISIL (the Islamic State of the Levant) in the region, which is intent on toppling the Assad regime in Damascus and the [Iraqi President Nouri] al-Malaki regime in Baghdad. These groups aren't casual jihadists, they're a scourge upon the region as a whole. Their actions have reached the magnitude of being a major regional security threat, and in Iraq, their depredations are creating a massive humanitarian crisis that is spilling over into the Kurdish region and could spill over into Iran, forcing Iranian intervention in Iraq — something we don't want."
Allen said U.S intervention would send "a powerful signal" to the terrorists that "the U.S. will not tolerate this attack on Iraq, but more importantly send the message their naked aggression and wanton criminality will not be tolerated in the region."
The Iraqi government has asked for U.S. assistance as members of ISIS captured the strategic cities of Mosul and Tikrit, making their way toward Baghdad.
Allen said he was also deeply concerned about Baiji, Iraq's major oil producer, located just north of Tikrit — where ISIS fighters have taken over. "If the enemy elements – and I use the word enemy deliberately as these elements are the enemy of all humanity – capture Baiji, we have lost control of Iraq's principal oil hub. This enemy already has captured several population centers and hundreds, perhaps thousands of prisoners, many among the Iraqi security forces. As well the enemy has reportedly stolen millions of Iraqi dinars from banks along their invasion route."
Allen said Obama needs to send a strong signal that even though the war in Iraq is over, the threats to the region and to U.S. national security are not.
"I strongly endorse President Obama's unambiguous signals that the U.S. will act," he said. "This isn't refighting the last war, this is about preventing the collapse of a major Arab partner and vital oil producer. It's about checking the momentum of one of the most horrendous groups to emerge from the Syrian civil war. Time is not on our side, not is it on Iraq's. This malignancy, ISIS, is on the march and the region is being threatened and we will have to deal with it sooner on our terms, or later on theirs. I vote for sooner and we must strike them with a hard blow."