White House on American Deployment to Iraq: ‘For Now, 450 Troops Are What Is Necessary’

The administration announced Wednesday that it would deploy more personnel to Iraq as part of the U.S. mission against the Islamic State.

National Journal
June 10, 2015, 10:15 a.m.

Two days after Pres­id­ent Obama said he doesn’t have a “com­plete strategy” for train­ing Ir­aqi forces in their fight against the Is­lam­ic State, the ad­min­is­tra­tion an­nounced that it’s send­ing 450 U.S. troops to Ir­aq to train those forces.

The White House said Wed­nes­day it will de­ploy troops and equip­ment to Ir­aq “to train, ad­vise, and as­sist” Ir­aqi forces at Taqad­dum mil­it­ary base in east­ern An­bar province. Of­fi­cials said these troops will not have a com­bat role. The de­ploy­ment brings the total of Amer­ic­an troops on the ground in Ir­aq to 3,550. Obama made the de­cision after a re­quest for help from Ir­aqi Prime Min­is­ter Haid­er Al-Abadi, the White House said in a state­ment.

“The pres­id­ent and his team are con­fid­ent that for now 450 troops are what is ne­ces­sary,” said White House press sec­ret­ary Josh Earn­est said, adding that the pres­id­ent will “con­tinu­ally eval­u­ate the strategy.”

The an­nounce­ment comes after Is­lam­ic State mil­it­ants took over the Ir­aqi city of Ra­madi on Sunday. No Ir­aqi se­cur­ity forces re­main there. Earn­est said Wed­nes­day that of­fi­cials were con­sid­er­ing this latest de­ploy­ment be­fore Is­lam­ic State fight­ers over­ran Ra­madi.

An Amer­ic­an-led co­ali­tion of na­tions has car­ried out thou­sands of air strikes against Is­lam­ic State tar­gets in Ir­aq and Syr­ia since Au­gust. In April, the co­ali­tion in­creased bomb­ing raids in the Ra­madi area after Ir­aqi of­fi­cials with­drew Shiite mi­li­tias there who were fight­ing against the ter­ror­ist group.

“What we’ve de­term­ined is that the counter-ISIL cam­paign works best when we have a cap­able part­ner we are sup­port­ing on the ground,” White House deputy na­tion­al se­cur­ity ad­viser Ben Rhodes told re­port­ers Wed­nes­day, us­ing a dif­fer­ent name to refer to the group.

The De­fense De­part­ment said in a state­ment that the de­cision “does not rep­res­ent a change in mis­sion, but rather adds an­oth­er loc­a­tion for [the de­part­ment] to con­duct sim­il­ar activ­it­ies in more areas in Ir­aq.”

Troops are ex­pec­ted to ar­rive as early as this sum­mer, ac­cord­ing to a New York Times re­port.

Re­port­ers had many ques­tions for Earn­est dur­ing Wed­nes­day’s press brief­ing on the an­nounce­ment. But one re­port­er wanted to know about oth­er, less press­ing pres­id­en­tial news: this pho­to­graph, taken dur­ing the G-7 sum­mit in Ger­many, of the pres­id­ent hold­ing something in his hands that looks a lot like a box of ci­gar­ettes. Obama used to smoke ci­gar­ettes, and has said he uses Nicor­ette. Earn­est said Wed­nes­day that the pres­id­ent was not hold­ing ci­gar­ettes in that photo, though Earn­est hadn’t asked Obama about it him­self.

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