, WASHINGTON, June 20 – President Barack Obama pledged to take “precise” military action if needed to check marauding Sunni radicals in Iraq and offered up to 300 US advisors to train Iraqi forces facing a crisis splintering the country along sectarian lines.
But Obama, who based an entire political career on ending US involvement in Iraq, insisted the United States was not slipping back into the morass and warned Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki and Iran that promoting sectarianism would spell disaster.
Obama signed off on White House action after meeting his top national security advisors to discuss how to respond to swift gains by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) insurgents who have seized several key cities and threaten to advance on Baghdad.
The fighters have grabbed northern Iraq’s biggest city, Mosul, displaced hundreds of thousands of people, left an unknown number dead and alarmed Western nations who fear the establishment of a vast new “terror” haven.
ISIL fighters also seized one of Saddam Hussein’s chemical weapons factories, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Thursday, though she said the United States did not believe any materials remaining on the site could be used for military purposes, because they were old and “very difficult, if not impossible, to safely move.”
Obama was adamant, in any case, that “American forces will not be returning to combat in Iraq.”
“But we will help Iraqis as they take the fight to terrorists who threaten the Iraqi people, the region and American interests as well,” he said.
– ‘Targeted’ military action –
Obama said he had already bolstered surveillance and intelligence capabilities in the country as he weighs possible military operations in the US national interest.
“Going forward, we will be prepared to take targeted and precise military action if and when we determine that the situation on the ground requires it,” said Obama.
Washington has already positioned an aircraft carrier in the Gulf and is also considering using drone strikes against ISIL militants.
Senior US officials privately said that special forces being sent to advise Iraqi forces could also be used to call in air strikes if necessary.
A senior US official said the US advisors would operate in small teams of about a dozen special operators embedded at “upper headquarters” level in the Iraqi forces, and perhaps later at brigade level.