Following the U.S. president’s decision, 450 American soldiers will join the Iraqi Army in Anbar Province in a bid to retake its capital, Ramadi, taken over by Islamic State fighters in May. However, according to critics, Republicans in particular, such a move will not be enough to defeat the Islamic State jihadi.
On top of the 3,100 soldiers already supporting Iraq in that region, President Obama authorized the deployment of an additional 450 soldiers. Their role will be to advise and train Iraqi militants in the battle against the jihadi Islamic State group. According to information released by the Pentagon, the aim of such a decision is to help Iraqi forces in the recovery of the Ramadi-Fallujah corridor, which leads to Baghdad.
The U.S. soldiers will be stationed in the Anbar province of western Iraq, around 40 km (about 24.8 miles) from Ramadi near al-Taqaddum Airbase, occupied by American forces during the Iraq War from 2003 to 2011, and is now the site where a fifth training center will open. According to information from the Pentagon, the center will be operating fully within the next six to eight weeks.
One hundred out of the 450 military staff are advisers and instructors, whereas the remaining personnel will include logistics engineers and a security workforce. They will not participate in combat, but their presence will help to coordinate military ground operations with the American-led coalition airstrikes, to avoid the situation that occurred when the Islamic State group took control of Ramadi. Communication problems within the Iraqi Army at the time forced soldiers to leave the city for fear of not receiving support from coalition air forces. As explained by the U.S. government, the current objective is to stop communication issues and reduce the ground forces’ waiting time for a backup from the air.
Another objective is to establish contact with Sunni tribes to include them in the fight against the Islamic State group and to improve relations between Sunni militia and the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government. The Pentagon’s spokesman confirmed that the U.S. will aim to include as many Sunni militiamen in the regular Iraqi Army as possible to assist Iraqi efforts to fight the Islamic State group.
The White House announced that the decision to deploy additional forces to Iraq made by Obama in response to a request by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and after consultations with Pentagon, does not mean a change in the current U.S. strategy, but is a response to the need of engaging more Sunnis into the fight against the Islamic State group.
However, whether the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government fulfills its commitments to recruit Sunni militia to drive Islamic State group combatants out of Ramadi and Fallujah remains an open question. So far, the government has preferred to use its U.S-trained forces to secure Baghdad.
John Boehner, Republican speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, deemed Obama’s decision a step in the right direction, but added that the president still has no far-reaching strategy to defeat the Islamic State group.
However, Republican “hawk” John McCain has not spared Obama any criticism. The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee accused Obama of lacking decisiveness and resorting to half-measures, which, according to the senator, remind him of disastrous errors made by the U.S. during the Vietnam War in which he fought.
McCain says that currently three-quarters of the U.S.-led airstrike missions end up with aircraft returning to base without dropping a single bomb, because there are no forces on the ground to identify targets.
Also Fred Kagan, a security expert from the American Enterprise Institute and regarded as a Republican supporter, defined Obama’s decision as silly and making no real change.
Kagan, speaking on the Politico website, said that American soldiers should support Iraqis in intelligence missions to improve the efficiency of the air campaign. Kagan thinks that Obama has not yet grasped the situation in Iraq which has “changed completely” since Obama took office. Kagan judged that the support Iraq needs in its battle against the Islamic State group is far greater than the U.S. currently provides.
The New York Times predicts that since the main aim of the U.S. strategy at the moment is to retake Ramadi, the current priority of liberating Mosul, Iraq’s second largest in size city, will have to wait, perhaps, until 2016.
At present, 3,100 American soldiers support armed forces in Iraq. The Iraqi Army is trained in four centers – two in Baghdad, one in Anbar and one in Erbil, north Iraq – as well as the Special Forces training unit nearby Baghdad.