Obama signals extended U.S. role in Iraq

Obama signals extended U.S. role in Iraq

Recognizing the crisis in Iraq will not be resolved quickly, President Barack Obama indicated the possibility of an enduring U.S. military involvement in Iraq amidst a rapid advance by Sunni extremists.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the militant group Islamic State began a new offensive over the past week that brought them within 25 miles of the capital of Iraq’s Kurdish region, Erbil. The group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, attempted to advance farther north on Saturday but decided retreated.

Obama stated that the U.S. airstrikes launched Friday targeted Islamic State artillery, fighters and a convoy of vehicles.  He added that the airstrikes and other aid would only deter problems until Iraqi leaders form an inclusive government able to challenge the threat from the insurgents, mend relations with regional neighbors and restore the country’s security forces.

“Ultimately, only Iraqis can ensure the security and stability of Iraq,” Obama said, speaking to reporters for the first time since the U.S. began the military operation. “The United States can’t do it for them.”

U.S. forces have airdropped food and water to tens of thousands of members of the Yazidi religious minority who have been confined on a northern mountainside by the latest advance of Islamic State. Obama said U.S. forces are situated strategically in an effort to assist breaking the siege on the Yazidis

The Islamic State is accused of attempting to carry out a genocide against the Yazidis and the group has threatened to advance on Erbil, where American military advisers and diplomats are stationed. The U.S. has piloted three rounds of airstrikes designed to halt further movement towards the Kurdish capital.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Obama has pledged only limited participation and insisted that American combat troops won’t return to fight in Iraq. However, he would not set an end-date for U.S. military operations. The White House is insistent that Iraqi leaders form a new government that can bond the country’s disparate groups and more efficiently counter the militants.

“The most important timetable that I am focused on right now is the Iraqi government getting formed, completed,” Obama said. “In the absence of an Iraqi government, it is very hard to get a unified effort by Iraqis against ISIL. We can conduct airstrikes, but ultimately there is not going to be an American military solution to this problem.”

In the early hours of Saturday, Islamic State fighters attempted to move northward and briefly seized the town of Sheikhan, moving nearer to the Kurdish-dominated province of Dohuk.  A local resident stated that by the afternoon the fighters pulled back from Sheikhan.  He added that they remained on the edge of the town.

A Kurdistan Regional Government official stated the town remains under the control of its military forces identified as the Peshmerga.  It is not clear why the Islamic State insurgents retreated.

It looks as though the militant groups are trying to unite the towns they have seized along the border of Kurdish-controlled areas.  This advancement has alarmed both residents of the area and the Kurdistan Regional Government.

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