After violent Islamic insurgents captured a second key city in Iraq this week, President Obama said Thursday the country would need “more help” from the U.S. government.
When asked if the U.S. would send drones or military planes to conduct air strikes against militants, President Obama said he is keeping options open. "I don't rule out anything because we do have a stake in making sure that these jihadists are not getting a permanent foot hold in either Iraq, or Syria, for that matter," Obama told reporters. However, both Obama and White House spokesman Jay Carney have said the U.S. will not be putting troops on the ground in Iraq.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, or ISIS, led Tuesday’s attack on Mosul, the country’s second-largest city. Militants seized television stations, cut power lines and freed prisoners in a swift takeover. Days after, ISIS extremists chased out Iraqi government officials in Tikrit, a city north of Baghdad. A new recording, supposedly from an ISIS spokesman, emerged Thursday and suggests Baghdad could be their next target.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called the situation a “humanitarian crisis” and has urged parliament to declare a state of emergency. The New York Times reports that al-Maliki has also secretly asked the U.S. to conduct targeted military strikes against the insurgents, but the Obama administration has yet to announce any plans to that effect.
"We are deeply concerned about what is happening in Iraq," said Secretary of State John Kerry. "We are not concerned and waiting. We are providing assistance and are in direct touch with Prime Minister Maliki" and other leaders, he said.
The violence comes two and a half years after U.S. troops left Iraq, which some say contributed to the current chaos. “The war in Iraq was not over when the United States withdrew from Iraq in 2011,” wrote James M. Dubik, a senior fellow at the Institute for the Study of War. “Like it or not, our departure left a diplomatic and security vacuum that contributed to the crisis unfolding there.” The retired Army lieutenant general called for “a coordinated air and ground action,” with firepower from the U.S. and “allied aircraft augmented by Iraqi assets.”
House Speaker John Boehner wouldn’t comment on whether the U.S. should proceed with drone strikes but agreed that the U.S. should provide Iraq with the assistance it requested. Boehner took Obama to task for his response to the crisis: "They're 100 miles from Baghdad. And what's the president doing? Taking a nap." Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., shared Boehner’s sentiment, saying Obama should fire his entire national security team, and called the situation in Iraq “a colossal failure of American security policy.”
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Michigan, said members of Congress should slow down and think before acting. “We shouldn’t knee jerk anything. The Iraqi government a few years back, when they had a chance to sign an agreement that would keep some of our presence there, refused to do it,” he said. “So we’ve got to be very careful and thoughtful before we do anything.”
Under Obama, the U.S. has used drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan to target terrorist cells seen as national security threats. According to data aggregated by the Washington Post, there have been 368 drone strikes in Pakistan since 2004 and 75 strikes in Yemen and Somalia since 2002. In a Pew survey from last year, 56 percent of Americans said they approved of drone strikes to “target extremists in countries such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.”
So what do you think?
Should Obama order drone strokes against Iraqi militants? Vote and comment below.