Back to Iraq: Obama sending 300 military advisers to Iraq to help quell rising insurgency
The jockeying has been prompted by the lighting gains of the ISIL, an insurgency fueled in part by the civil war in neighboring Syria. The militants have sparked a fresh cycle of sectarian violence in Iraq, which continued Thursday when the bullet-riddled bodies of four handcuffed men, presumably Sunnis, were found in a Shiite neighborhood of Baghdad.
The fight continued for control of the Beiji oil refinery, with Iraq's government desperately seeking to hold off the extremists. By late Thursday, the two sides held different parts of the refinery, which extends over several square kilometers of desert.
The 300 Green Beret special operations forces Obama plans to deploy to Iraq will be focused on assessing the state of the Iraqi security forces, which have struggled to hold off the insurgent advances and in some cases have deserted their units. Initially the deployments will be limited to several teams of about a dozen soldiers apiece who will operate mainly in Baghdad at various Iraqi military headquarters.
The first wave will also assess the state of the battle with the insurgents and set the stage for the deployment of follow-on military adviser teams. More broadly, the role of the advisers is to gather intelligence and share it with the Iraqi forces, and assess how best to increase the training and equipping of Iraqi Security Forces in their fight with the insurgents.
The military advisers will join up to 275 U.S. forces that Obama previously announced would be positioned in and around Iraq to provide security and support for the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and other American interests.
Mindful of what he called "the deep scars left by America's war in Iraq," Obama was adamant that U.S. troops would not be returning to combat.
"We do not have the ability to simply solve this problem by sending in tens of thousands of troops and committing the kinds of blood and treasure that has already been expended in Iraq," Obama declared at the White House. "Ultimately, this is something that is going to have to be solved by Iraqis."
On Capitol Hill, congressional reaction to Obama's decisions broke down along party lines with Republicans criticizing him but offering wildly different recommendations of what steps to take. Democrats cautiously backed the president.
Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, pushed for airstrikes. Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the Armed Services Committee, complained that Obama's "half-step" wouldn't resolve the crisis. McKeon pressed for a comprehensive course of action but provided no specifics on what that should be.
Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia and Independent Angus King of Maine welcomed the limited U.S. military support to the Iraqi forces. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, speaking in advance of the president's announcement, voiced concern about dispatching even a small contingent of Americans to Iraq.
"I think that you have to be careful sending special forces because that's a number that has a tendency to grow," she said.
Hendawi reported from Baghdad. Associated Press writers Diaa Hadid in Iraq and Lara Jakes, Matthew Lee, Robert Burns, Lolita C. Baldor and Donna Cassata in Washington contributed to this report. Follow Julie Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC and Hamza Hendawi at http://twitter.com/hendawihamza
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