President Barack Obama said on Sunday sending an additional 1,500 American troops into Iraq signified a shift from a defensive to an offensive strategy against the radical Islamist group that calls itself the Islamic State.
In an interview with CBS News’ Face the Nation, the president argued that the first phase was getting a credible and inclusive Iraqi government in place.
After Iraqi soldiers first fled in the face of an Islamic State assault on the northern city of Mosul in June, the United States — which occupied Iraq between 2003 and 2011 — urged the country’s prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, to stand down in favor of a less decisive leader. Many of the country’s Sunnis supported, or at least sympathized with, the Islamic State’s insurgency, desperate about their prospects under Maliki’s Shia government which had marginalized Iraq’s other sects.
Once Maliki resigned, the United States and other Western powers launched airstrikes against Islamic State targets in the north of Iraq as well as the east of Syria where the group is also active.
“The airstrikes have been very effective in degrading ISIL’s capabilities and slowing the advance that they were making,” Obama told Face the Nation, referring to the Islamist groups by its former acronym. “Now what we need is ground troops, Iraqi ground troops, that can start pushing them back.”
The president did not rule out sending more of his own troops either. “You know, as commander-in-chief, I’m never going to say never,” he said. But he also reiterated his commitment not to involve American soldiers directly in the battle.