Obama authorizes 1,500 more troops in Iraq

A crushed car remained in the aftermath of a recent bombing in the city of Ramadi. A Pentagon spokesman said Iraq’s new prime minister requested additional US help.
A crushed car remained in the aftermath of a recent bombing in the city of Ramadi. A Pentagon spokesman said Iraq’s new prime minister requested additional US help.Ali Al-Mashhadani/REUTERS

WASHINGTON — President Obama has authorized the deployment of an additional 1,500 US troops to Iraq in the coming months.

That would double the number of Americans meant to train and advise Iraqi and Kurdish forces as they plan a major offensive expected in the spring against Islamic State fighters who have poured into the country from Syria.

Pentagon officials said military advisers will establish training sites across Iraq in a significant expansion of the US military campaign in Iraq and Syria against the Islamic State.

A Defense Department official said a number of military personnel would deploy specifically to Anbar province, the Sunni stronghold in western Iraq that was the scene of bloody fighting for years after the 2003 US-led invasion.


In recent months Sunni militants with the Islamic State have been seizing and holding territory across Anbar.

In addition, White House budget officials said they will ask Congress for $5 billion for military operations in the Middle East against the Islamic State, including $1.6 billion to train and equip Iraqi troops. At its height in 2006 and 2007, the Iraq War was costing the United States more than $60 billion a year.

Administration officials said the expanded effort was intended to help the Iraqis break the Islamic State’s occupation in northern and western Iraq, re-establish the government’s control over the country’s major roads and borders, and retake Mosul, a city of about 1 million people 250 miles north of Baghdad.

The timing of the announcement — three days after the midterm elections — raised the question of whether the administration, wary of angering a war-weary American public, decided to wait until after the elections to minimize damage to Democratic candidates.

For several weeks now, administration officials have said they expected they would have to send additional troops to help the Iraqi forces, who initially disintegrated in the face of the rampaging Islamic State.


Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, acting on weeks-old advice from top generals, formally requested the additional troops this week, according to Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary. Pentagon officials said that Hagel was responding to a request from the Iraqi government for the troops and that US Central Command, which oversees US military operations in the Middle East, had assessed the Iraqi units and determined that help was needed.

Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, said Obama has authorized the additional personnel to operate at Iraqi bases, even those outside the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, and Irbil, the Kurdish capital.

Until now, US troops have been operating at a headquarters with Iraqi and Kurdish forces in those two cities.

Administration officials insisted Friday that the doubling to 3,000 US troops in Iraq was consistent with the president’s policy that the United States is not engaged in combat there.

Obama, who ran against the Iraq War in his 2008 presidential campaign and pulled all US troops from the country in 2011, has repeatedly ruled out sending ground troops back, even as he is deepening US military engagement in both Iraq and Syria.

A senior administration official, who asked for anonymity under ground rules imposed by the White House, rejected suggestions that the doubling of forces amounted to mission creep.

“The mission is not changing at all for our service members,” the official said, adding that the president “made clear that we are not going to be putting US men and women back into combat. We will continue to assure people that this is a different kind of mission.”


During a conference call with reporters, senior administration officials denied that Obama waited until after the midterm elections to announce the deployment so as not to alarm an already skittish electorate.

“It’s being done now, quite frankly, because the Iraqis have demonstrated the willingness and the will to go after ISIL,” Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, told reporters after the call, using another name for the Islamic State. Iraqi forces, he said, have “reached the point where they need additional help and guidance.”

Kirby said Iraq’s new prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, had requested the help. “There was no political angle to the timing here,” he said.

Administration officials did not express any heightened concern, at least during the conference call, about the military effort. So far it consists largely of US airstrikes on Islamic State artillery positions, vehicles and, in a few cases, small patrol boats on the Euphrates River.

White House officials said the request for $5 billion will be presented to Congress during the lame-duck session.

Officials said the decision to send additional troops was based on legal authority the president has from Congress. But they said the president wanted a new authorization from Congress for continuing US military action in Iraq and Syria, which Obama has said will last into the presidency of his successor.