WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Saturday proposed a broader long-term strategy to confront Islamic militants in Iraq, who have surprised U.S. intelligence with the fast pace of their approach on the Kurdish capital of Irbil.
Obama warned Americans that the new campaign to bring security in Iraq requires military and political changes and "is going to be a long-term project." He wouldn't give a timetable for how long the U.S. military involvement would last, saying it depends on Iraq's political efforts.
"I don't think we are going to solve this problem in weeks," Obama said. "I think this is going to take some time."
The president said Iraqi security forces need to revamp to effectively mount an offensive, which requires a government in Baghdad that the Iraqi military and people have confidence in. Obama said Iraq needs a prime minister — an indication that he believes he's written off the legitimacy of the incumbent, Nouri al-Maliki.
Obama said he won't close the U.S. Embassy or the Irbil consulate, which means American troops and diplomats will remain on the ground who will need protecting. He said where U.S. personnel are threatened, it's his obligation as commander in chief to protect them.
The president said humanitarian efforts continue to airdrop food and water to persecuted religious minorities stranded on a mountaintop, and he said planning was underway for how to get them down.
Obama made his comments and took a few questions from reporters on the South Lawn of the White House, just before boarding Marine One for his summer vacation in Massachusetts.
He went back inside for his wife, Michelle, and daughter Malia, and then quickly departed for Martha's Vineyard. The White House did not immediately reply to inquiries about younger daughter Sasha's whereabouts.
Obama sharply rejected the premise that it was his decision to pull out from Iraq and said it was because Iraqis didn't want U.S. troops there.
He repeated that the U.S. is not going to have us combat troops in Iraq again. "We are going to maintain that because we should have learned a lesson from our long and immensely costly incursion into Iraq," Obama said.
The president said there's "no doubt" the Islamic State advance on the Kurdish capital of Irbil "has been more rapid than the intelligence estimates."
U.S. military jets launched several airstrikes Friday on isolated targets, including two mortar positions and a vehicle convoy. U.S. officials announced Friday night the second airdrop of food and water in as many days for the imperiled refugees.
Associated Press writers Julie Pace and Erica Werner, and Nedra Pickler in Edgartown, Massachusetts, contributed to this report.