Aided by U.S. airstrikes over the weekend, Iraqi and Kurdish forces have successfully recaptured Mosul Dam, which was seized by terrorist group ISIS earlier this month, President Obama told reporters today.
Helping wrest control of the dam from ISIS is “directly tied to our objective of protecting Americans in Iraq,” Obama said during a news conference.
“If that dam was breached it could have proven catastrophic,” the president said.
Situated just 80 miles northwest of Erbil, the two-mile-wide dam could easily be turned into a weapon of mass destruction: A breach would unleash a torrent of water that would flood nearby Mosul and swamp the capital city of Baghdad, leading to as many as 500,000 civilian deaths.
Obama went on to praise the Iraqi and Kurdish forces for working together on “taking the fight” to ISIS and vowed the continued support of the U.S. The president said the United States will work with its partners to provide humanitarian assistance to people in the region and will continue developing a “long-term strategy to turn the tide against” ISIS.
Earlier this month, the president also authorized a series of airstrikes that successfully eradicated munitions stockpiles of ISIS fighters plotting to overtake Erbil, where the U.S. has a consulate, and a series of humanitarian air drops to aid Yazidi refugees fleeing ISIS.
President Obama has long promised that U.S. ground troops, removed from Iraq in December 2011, will not return to combat there. But in a letter to congressional leaders, Obama said he believed the Mosul Dam airstrikes were “in the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States.”
"I have been firm from the start that we are not reintroducing thousands of US troops back on the ground to engage in combat. ... Iraq is going to have to ultimately provide for its own security," the president reiterated today. "On the other hand, we’ve got a national security interest in making sure our people are protected, and in making sure that a savage group that seems willing to slaughter people for no rhyme or reason other than they have not kowtowed to them, that a group like that is contained, because ultimately it can pose a threat to us."
The president once again called for a “new, broad-based, inclusive Iraqi government,” and applauded the peaceful transition of power from former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to new Prime Minister designate, Haider al-Ibadi.
“Without that progress, extremists like ISIL can continue to pray upon Iraq’s divisions,” he said. “They’ve got to get this done because the wolf's at the door and in order for them to be credible with the Iraqi people they’re going to have to put behind some of the old practices and actually create a credible, united government.”
“Our goal is to have effective partners on the ground and if we have effective partners on the ground, mission creep is much less likely,” he added.