Obama Doubles Down: No 'Ground War in Iraq'

PHOTO: President Barack Obama speaks at US Central Command (CentCom) at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., Sept. 17, 2014.Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Photo
President Barack Obama speaks at US Central Command (CentCom) at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., Sept. 17, 2014.

Speaking to hundreds of military personnel, President Obama today sought to reassure the people tasked with carrying out his new anti-terror strategy that "the American forces that have been deployed to Iraq do not and will not have a combat mission."

"As your commander-in-chief, I will not commit you and the rest of our armed forces to fighting another ground war in Iraq," the president told troops packed into a gymnasium at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, after meeting with top commanders leading the his new strategy to counter the threat of the militant group ISIS.

"After a decade of massive ground deployment, it is more effective to use our unique capabilities in support of partners on the ground so they can secure their own countries' futures. And that's the only solution that will succeed over the long term," he said.

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As the U.S. seeks to build an international coalition of support, the president reiterated "this is not and will not be America's fight alone."

"We're not going to do this alone. And the one thing we have learned is that when we do things alone and the countries -- the people of those countries aren't doing it for themselves, as soon as we leave we start getting the same problems. So we've got to do things different," he said. "We cannot do for the Iraqis what they must do for themselves."

The president's remarks come one day after his top military adviser opened the door to possibly deploying U.S. ground forces in the fight against ISIS, also known as ISIL, if airstrikes prove insufficient.

"If we reach the point where I believe our advisers should accompany Iraqi troops on attacks against specific ISIL targets, I will recommend that to the president," Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.

Dempsey is not alone. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned today that "there will be boots on the ground if there's to be any hope of success in the strategy."

"I think that by continuing to repeat that [there won't be troops on the ground], the president in effect traps himself," Gates told CBS News.

"Sending our service members into harm's way is not a decision I ever take lightly; it is the hardest decision I make as president," Obama said in closing his remarks.

"Nothing else comes close. I do it only when I know the mission is vital to the security of this country that we love. I do it only because I know that you're the best there is at what you do," he said.