President Obama’s decision to send Apache attack helicopters to Iraq and embed U.S. advisers with Iraqi combat battalions will bring them closer to the front lines of the war against the Islamic State — but falls short of decisive U.S. action that could destroy the terrorist group, critics say.
Obama has agreed to send 217 more U.S. troops, bringing the authorized total in Iraq to 4,087, and to let them “embed at the battalion level,” a step closer to the fighting than previously, Capt. Jeff Davis, a Defense Department spokesman, told reporters at the Pentagon yesterday.
In addition to advising Iraqi forces, the Americans will provide “force protection, fire support and aviation support,” Davis said. That includes U.S.-operated Apache helicopters for the coming battle to retake Mosul, an Islamic State stronghold, Defense Secretary Ash Carter told troops during a visit to Baghdad.
The move was criticized as “grudging incrementalism” by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. McCain has long pressed Obama to send more U.S. troops and authorize them to play a more direct role in fighting the terrorist group.
“While the deployment of an additional 217 U.S. troops to fight ISIL is welcome, this is yet another example of the kind of grudging incrementalism that rarely wins wars but could certainly lose one,” McCain said in a statement, using an acronym for the Islamic State.
John Pike with Global-Securities.org said the administration is letting events on the ground dictate its next steps rather than leading with a larger force that could draw ISIS into an open fight which it will lose.
“The administration is not going to jump off the deep end of the pool without getting their feet wet,” Pike said. “There is an element to the military creep of the Obama administration whether it’s in Iraq or the Syria that it is so gradual that the political benefit of it is lost.”
The White House attempted to describe the moves as a significant step but not one that undermines Obama’s pledge that he won’t embroil U.S. ground forces in sustained combat in Iraq.
“This has to be a fight that is led by local forces,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters. The moves “were announced after Secretary Carter had an opportunity to confer with Iraqi government officials” on backing their efforts, he said.
“What was announced today were ideas for intensifying that support in a rather tangible way, but it does not change the basic elements of the strategy,” Earnest said.
Herald wire services contributed to this report.
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