It’s not the War on Terror. It’s Operation Inherent Resolve, so Obama thinks it’s alright to send 600 more troops to Iraq.
While the current presidential candidates argue about who was more against the war in Iraq, the U.S. is quietly sending additional troops into the country. According to reports, the Department of Defense approved 600 troops to be sent to Iraq last week.
— Peter Cook (@PentagonPresSec) September 28, 2016
Despite President Obama’s former statement that Al Qaeda was merely a “shadow of its former self,” the presence of both Al Qaeda and ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham) has continued to grow in Iraq. So much so that the so-called “Islamic State” has taken control of multiple Iraqi cities (not to mention major territorial gains in Syria.)
Obama used a withdrawal from Iraq as a political token he hoped would win him the foreign policy jackpot. Ignoring requests of the military and the SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement), he left less than 10,000 troops in Iraq, effectively leaving our soldiers with too little training and support to suppress threats to both the U.S. and Iraq.
Over the course of his presidency, Obama has continued attempts to bring home every soldier in Iraq. At first, he was successful, bringing down the height of deployment (near 170,000) in 2007 down to a handful of U.S. contractors.
But as regional instability has increased, American forces have been quietly built back up since the first quarter of 2015. The newly added 600 will bring the estimated total number of troops to about 5000 (plus a few thousand U.S. contractors.)
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter made clear that the troops would not be used in combat, only training and support. His statement said, “The troops, in close coordination with the government of Iraq, will provide specific capabilities including logistics and maintenance support; train, advise and assist teams for Iraqi Security Forces and Kurdish Peshmerga…” Though, even with these specific roles, it doesn’t guarantee that American soldiers won’t be put into dangerous, ISIS-held territory.
The increase in American personnel is part of a planned campaign with the Iraqi military to retake Mosul, one of the most important cities captured by the terrorist organization. The city has military, economic and symbolic value. In addition to the U.S. troops, the Department of Defense has announced a list of targets hit in drone strikes in Iraq (and Syria.)
The operation in Mosul won’t start until later this month (according to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.) Of course, we have limited insight on the actual plan of battle except that it will be a multi-phase operation with a number of coalition forces. Even while the battle will aim to rescue the city from ISIS’s grasp, serious concerns about the impact on civilians have been raised.
Retaking Mosul is part of Operation Inherent Resolve, created to combat the spread of terrorism in the Middle East, specifically from ISIS. That’s the loophole that allows Obama to separate himself from the War on Terror, even while he commits American troops to the same cities we previously had soldiers die in. Twenty-five of our soldiers have died in Operation Inherent Resolve so far.
Inherent Resolve includes operations in Syria, which presents a different set of challenges. Obama has made clear he wants to keep American soldiers out of the chaos there. The situation has been further complicated in the past two weeks by attempts at a ceasefire and political agreement with Russia. Those plans quickly deteriorated and mass casualties have only continued. Instead of an American presence, the Secretary of State has been hamstrung by the President. Obama’s personal “red line” on using force in Syria has prevented Sec. John Kerry from adding needed weight to his negotiations on Syria.
Obama’s Administration hasn’t made clear what the long-term plan for Iraq might be. Perhaps he plans to leave that up to the next Commander-in-Chief.