State Dep't Explains Obama's 'We Don't Yet Have a Complete Strategy' Remark

By Susan Jones | June 9, 2015 | 6:12am EDT
President Barack Obama speaks to reporters at the conclusion of the G-7 summit in southern Germany, Monday, June 8, 2015. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

(CNSNews.com) - President Obama was talking about the training and equipping of Iraqi forces when he told reporters on Monday that he doesn't have a "complete strategy" in place, said State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke.

"If you watched and if you read the transcript of what the president said, I think it should be clear that he was speaking about how to accelerate and optimize the training and equipping of Iraqi forces, including the integration of Sunni fighters, and not the overall strategy to fight -- to fight ISIL," Rathke said at Monday's State Department briefing.

Here's what the president said in Germany on Monday, when a reporter asked him, "What is not working in the fight against the Islamic state?"

"With respect to ISIL, we have made significant progress in pushing back ISIL from areas in which they had occupied or disrupted local populations. But we've also seen areas, like in Ramadi, where they're displaced in one place and then they come back in in another. And they're nimble and they're aggressive and they're opportunistic.

So, one of the areas where we're going to have to improve is the speed at which we're training Iraqi forces.

"Where we've trained Iraqi forces directly and equipped them, and we have a train-and-assist posture, they operate effectively. Where we haven't, morale, lack of equipment, et cetera, may undermine the effectiveness of Iraqi security forces.

"So we want to get more Iraqi security forces trained, fresh, well-equipped and focused. And President Abadi wants the same thing.

"So we're reviewing a range of plans for how we might do that, essentially accelerating the number of Iraqi forces that are properly trained and equipped and have a focused strategy and good leadership. And when a finalized plan is presented to me by the Pentagon, then I will share it with the American people.

"It's not -- I -- we don't yet have a complete strategy because it requires commitments on the part of the Iraqis as well about how recruitment takes place; how that training takes place. And so the details of that are not yet worked out."

Later on Monday, the State Department spokesman assured reporters, "We have a strategy."

"It's agreed with our international partners, with the Iraqi government, and we're working hard to implement it across all the lines of efforts."

So why isn't the train-and-equip part of the strategy ready?" a reporter asked. "It's been, what, nine months since the United States began air strikes? Why isn't it ready?"

Rathke said there are two different parts of the train-and-equip program -- one involving 3,000 U.S. military personnel on the ground in Iraq working with their Iraqi counterparts. "And I think the president spoke to that and the -- to the, you know, effectiveness that it has had with the Iraqi forces we've been working with.

"And then the Syria train-and-equip mission is one where my colleagues also at the Department of Defense are in the lead, so they can give you more details about it. Of course, that has taken time to ramp up. We've been working closely with our partners in the region, Turkey and with others, to implement it. But that's a different -- different circumstances, different situation, and has taken longer to ramp up."

In his remarks on Monday, Obama said "all the countries in the international coalition are prepared to do more to train Iraqi security forces," if they feel like the additional effort will work.

He noted that in some places in Iraq there is more training capacity than there are recruits to be trained.

"So, part of my discussion with Prime Minister Abadi was how do we make sure that we get more recruits in. A big part of the answer there is our outreach to Sunni tribes. We've seen Sunni tribes who are not only willing and prepared to fight ISIL, but have been successful at rebuffing ISIL. But it has not been happening as fast as it needs to.

"And so, one of the efforts that I'm hoping to see out of Prime Minister Abadi and the Iraqi legislature when they're in session is to move forward on a national guard law that would help to devolve some of the security efforts in places like Anbar to local folks and to get those Sunni tribes involved more rapidly.

President Barack Obama sits with IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde and Italy's Prime Minister Matteo Renzi oduring the G-7 summit, appearing not to notice Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi who was trying to get his attention. (Michael Kappeler/Pool Photo via AP)

"This is part of what helped defeat AQI, the precursor of ISIL, during the Iraq war in 2006. Without that kind of local participation, even if you have a short-term success, it's very hard to hold those areas."

Obama also spoke about the need to stem the flow of foreign fighters. "This is an area where we've been seeking deeper cooperation with Turkish authorities, who recognize it's a problem but haven't fully ramped up the capacity they need. And this is something that I think we've got to spend a lot of time on."

Nine months ago

"So this is our stratetgy," Obama said nine months ago when he told the nation how he plans to degrade and defeat the Islamic State terrorists.

In that Sept. 10, 2014 speech, Obama mentioned four elements of his strategy, including U.S.-led air strikes; U.S. support for Iraqi forces fighting on the ground; military assistance to the Syrian opposition; and humanitarian assistance for displaced civilians.

As he indicated on Monday, Obama is still working on the second element, trying to bring Sunni fighters into mix.

'Awkward'

In what is described as an awkward moment at the G-7 summit on Monday, President Obama appeared to ignore Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi who was trying to get Obama's attention.

As the Associated Press reported, Obama was sitting on a bench, speaking with Italian Prime Minister Mario Renzi and IMF managing director Christine Lagarde, with his back turned to Abadi.

"Even after Obama, Renzi and Lagarde stand, none acknowledge Abadi nearby. Abadi then checks his watch, his translator raises his hands in a shrug, and the two walk away."

The AP noted that Obama and Abadi did have a private session later Monday where they discussed the fight against the Islamic State.

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