WH: Obama Will Give 'Careful Consideration' to Call for More Troops in Iraq

By Susan Jones | March 29, 2016 | 8:32am EDT
Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford speak at a news conference at the Pentagon, Friday, March 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Mauel Balce Ceneta)

(CNSNews.com) - Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford are expected to request more U.S. troops to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and when that recommendation is made, "the president will give it careful consideration," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters on Monday.

At a briefing last Friday, Dunford said he and Carter "both believe that there will be an increase to the U.S. forces in Iaq in the coming weeks, but that decision has not been made."

Dunford also told reporters that although there are as many as 5,000 U.S. troops in Iraq at any given time, only around 3,800 of them are "directly in support of the mission." The others are rotating in or out, he said, and therefore they are not counted as supporting the mission to defeat the Islamic State.

At Monday's White House briefing, Earnest said President Obama is "focused on results" in the effort to degrade and defeat ISIS/ISIL.

"The point is, the president's direction to his team has been, when we sense there are some tactics...that are showing some progress, come back to me with suggestions about how we can reinforce that element of our strategy.

"So that is what has led to the focus on ISIL's financing. That's also why the president has approved the greater commitment of manpower to these expeditionary targeting forces that can be used to carry out raids against leading ISIL figures."

"That is only something we've been doing over the last several months, but that was in response to the president's request for how the comparative advantage that the U.S. military has, particularly expertise when it comes to carrying out these raids, can be used to advance our campaigns.

"So, I don't know exactly what Secretary Carter and General Dunford have in mind when they made that specific comment, but surely the president is eager to hear suggestions from his military leaders about the way that we could reinforce those elements of our strategy that have shown progress. And if that means a commitment of greater resources, including additional personnel to that effort, then the president will give it careful consideration."

Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook told CNN on Monday that the recommendations to the president reflect two things -- "a need to accelerate the defeat of ISIL and also, at the same time, a request from the Iraqi government, for example, to bring more capabilities to bear" in the fight to retake Mosul.

Cook said no decisions have been made on sending more U.S. troops to Iraq, but he insisted that Iraqis "will lead this fight."

"We're in a support role, enabling them to succeed against ISIL, and so far it's succeeded in Ramadi. We're making preparations, of course, to move towards Mosul -- supporting the Iraqi forces that will move towards Mosul. That's the approach here. That will not change," Cook added.

As CNSNews.com reported on Friday, the U.S. support role is expanding in Iraq. Defense Secretary Carter told reporters on Friday that a U.S. Marine detachment sent to the Makhmour staging area "are now providing artillery fire at the request of the Iraqis to help support the ISF (Iraqi Security Forces) advance against the enemy and protect their forces."

Gen. Dunford said the Marines are there to protect the American advisers. "They're also in a position to provide support to the Iraqi forces, and from my perspective, this is no different than aviation fire we've been delivering."

Dunford also told reporters that although there are as many as 5,000 U.S. troops in Iraq at any given time, only 3,800 of them are "directly in support of the mission." The others are rotating in or out.

After declaring an end to U.S. combat in Iraq in 2011, President Obama three years later began sending Americans back to Iraq:

On June 16, 2014, the Obama White House announced that "275 U.S. military personnel are deploying to Iraq to provide support and security for U.S. personnel and the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad."

Three days later, on June 19, 2014 President Obama announced his intention to send "a small number of additional American military advisors -- up to 300" to Iraq "to assess how we can best train, advise, and support Iraqi security forces going forward."

On June 30 2014, the Pentagon announced that "at the direction of the president, the U.S. military augmented its security assistance by up to approximately 200 personnel to reinforce security at the U.S. embassy, its support facilities, and Baghdad International Airport."

On Aug. 7, 2014, Obama himself announced that he had authorized two operations in Iraq, including "targeted airstrikes to protect our American personnel, and a humanitarian effort to help save thousands of Iraqi civilians." (No troop numbers given.)

On Sept. 2, 2014 the White House press office announced that President Obama had authorized a State Department request for approximately 350 additional U.S. military personnel to protect U.S. diplomatic facilities and personnel in Baghdad, Iraq.

On Nov. 7, 2014, spokesman Josh Earnest announced that Obama "today authorized the deployment of up to 1,500 additional U.S. military personnel in a non-combat role to train, advise, and assist Iraqi Security Forces, including Kurdish forces."

On  June 10, 2015, White House officials said Obama would "add an additional 450 troops," bringing the total "up to 3,550 authorized across Iraq" in an "advisory, training, and support role."

On Dec. 1, 2015, Defense Secretary Carter told the House Armed Services Committee that President Obama had ordered Special Operations Forces to Syria "to support the fight against ISIL." He told the committee that "elsewhere in Iraq, we have about 3,500 troops at six locations in Iraq in support of Iraqi security forces, the ISF."

That same day, Gen. Dunford told the same committee that there were 3,500 troops in Iraq "because that's the numbers of troops that the president has approved to date."

On March 21, 2015, Col. Steve Warren, the spokesman for the U.S. military mission in Iraq, told reporters that the Pentagon had moved a detachment of "less than 200" Marines to Makhmur, where Iraqi troops are staging for the upcoming battle to retake Mosul. Warren also told reporters that the number of U.S. troops in Iraq remains under the "force cap" of 3,870 struck in an agreement with the Iraqi government, although that number does not reflect hundreds of troops rotating in and out.

And finally, on March 25, 2015, a reporter asked Gen. Dunford: "We've just heard this week that there are actually 5,000 U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq. Why is the Pentagon and senior military leadership reluctant to say that it's more than 3,800?

"We're not reluctant," Dunford responded. "What we track is the number that are in our force management level. That's 3,800. But this is nothing that's inconsistent with what's been going on for the last 15 years in terms of people that are in and out on temporary duty, less than a certain period of time, people that are in direct support of the embassy. Those have -- those have not been counted.

"In other words, there's a consistency in the way we've been counting people that's been going on for the last 15 years.

"And at any given time, we have 3,800 directly in support of the mission. When units rotate, for example, we don't double-count those numbers, so if there's a unit of 200 that's being replaced by a unit of 200 and they both happen to be on the ground at the same time, we don't count that as 400, we haven't in the past 15 years, because that hasn't -- that hasn't counted against our force management level.

"So the accounting of our people has been consistent. We're not denying that there's more people than 3,800; I think you got the numbers from us. But in terms of what we count in the mission, and that's in accordance with the direction that we've been given, the 3,800 is what's against the mission."

Also See:
U.S. Marines Providing Artillery Fire to Support Advancing Iraqi Ground Troops
Sen. Ron Johnson Calls for More U.S. Troops on the Ground: 'This Is a War'



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