Obama Announces Plan to Send Up to 300 Military Advisers to Iraq

In response to the rise of ISIS, the president emphasizes that American forces will not return to combat in Iraq.
39:32 | 06/19/14

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Transcript for Obama Announces Plan to Send Up to 300 Military Advisers to Iraq
This is an ABC news special report a crisis in the hero. Now -- George Stephanopoulos. Hello we're coming on the air because -- Obama set to speak from the White House about the crisis in Iraq. He's been meeting this morning with -- special security team considering several options to stop a growing insurgent threat from the militant group called the Islamic state of Iraq and Syria. Their goal to topple the Iraqi Government declare an Islamic state. When the top US officials fear would become a breeding ground for terrorists bent on attacking the west. The president is -- -- almost 300 Marines and other US forces to the region to secure our embassy. An aircraft carrier USS George H. W. Bush is now in the Persian gulf. And the Iraqi Government has requested US air strikes against IS IS an option the president told congressional leaders yesterday he's not prepared to order right now. -- -- senior White House correspondent John -- the briefing room and John the president also ruled out sending Americans into combat. And he told those leaders he did not anticipate needing congressional authorization for his current strategy. That's right George -- none of the options the president is considering would include a large scale military operation. The leading option I'm told -- the president's been looking at is the idea of sending a small number perhaps less than a hundred. Special operations forces to go to Iraq to advise the Iraqi Government. And even that may be done in phases because they want to give the Iraqis had a -- more here's the president. -- -- -- -- -- -- I just met what my national security team to discuss the situation in Iraq. We've been meeting regularly to review. The situation since I've -- terrorist organization that operates in Iraq and Syria made advances and senator Barack. As -- said last week. ISI -- poses a threat to the Iraqi People. To the region and to US interests so today I want to provide you an update on how we're was responding to situation. First we are working to secure embassy in personnel operating inside of Iraq. As president I have no greater priority. Than the safety of our men and women serving overseas so I've taken some steps or relocate some of our. Embassy personnel and we've sent reinforcements to better secure our facilities. Second. At my direction we have significantly increased our intelligence. Surveillance and reconnaissance assets so we've got a better picture of what's taking place. Inside of Iraq. And this will give us a greater understanding what I -- -- is doing where it's located and how we might support efforts to counter. This threat. Third the United States will continue to increase our support to Iraqi Security Forces. We're prepared to create joint operation centers in Baghdad and northern -- to share intelligence. And -- planning to confront. The terrorist threat -- -- -- Through our new counterterrorism partnership -- were prepared to work with congress to provide additional equipment. We have had advisors in Iraq through our embassy and were prepared to send a small number of additional American military advisors -- -- to 300. To assess how we can best train advise and support -- Iraqi security security forces going forward. American forces will not be returning to combat in Iraq. But we will help Iraqis as they take the fight to terrorists. Who threaten the Iraqi People the region and American interests as well. Four in recent days we've. Positioned additional US military assets in the region. Because of our increased intelligence resources were developing more information about potential targets associated -- I -- style. Going forward we will be prepared to take targeted and precise military action. If and when we determined that the situation on the ground requires. If we do I will consult closely with congress and leaders in Iraq and in the region. I want emphasized though that the best and most effective response to a threat like IS IL. Will ultimately involve partnerships where local forces like Iraqis. Take the -- Finally. The United States will lead a diplomatic effort to work with the Iraqi leaders and the countries in the region to support stability in Iraq. My direction -- Kerry will depart this weekend for meetings in the Middle East and Europe where he'll be able to consult with our allies and partners. And just as all Iraqis neighbors -- -- respect Iraq's territorial integrity. All of Iraq's neighbors have a vital interest in ensuring that Iraq does not -- civil war or become a safe haven for terrorists. Above all. Iraqi leaders must rise above their differences and come together around -- political plan for Iraq's future. -- Sunni. Kurds. All Iraqis. Must have confidence that they can advance their interests and aspirations. Through the political process rather than through violence. National unity meetings have to go forward to build consensus across Iraq's different communities. Now that the results of Iraq's recent election has been certified. A new parliament should convene as soon as possible. The formation of -- new government will be an opportunity to begin a genuine dialogue and -- -- government. That represents the legitimate interest of all Iraqis. Now it's not the place for the United States to choose Iraq's leaders. It is clear though that only leaders that can govern -- an inclusive agenda for going to be able to truly bring the Iraqi People together and help them through this crisis. Meanwhile the United States will not pursue military options to support one -- inside a -- at the expense of another. There's no military solution inside of Iraq. Certainly not one that is led. By the United States but there is an urgent need for an inclusive political process. A more capable Iraqi security force. And counterterrorism efforts that -- groups like heights Ohio a safe -- Closing in recent days of reminded us the deep scars left by America's war in Iraq. Alongside the loss of nearly 4500. American patriots. Many veterans carried -- of that war and world for the rest of their lives. Here at home Iraq sparked vigorous debates and intense emotions in the past and we've seen some of those debates resurface. But what's clear from last decade -- is the need for the United States to ask hard questions before we take. Action abroad. Particularly -- military action. The most important question we should all be asking. -- issue this. That we have to keep front and center of the issue that I keep on concern is what is in the national security interest of the United States of America. As commander in chief that's what I stay focused -- As Americans that's what all of us should be focused on -- going forward we will continue to consult closely with congress we will keep the American people informed. We will remain vigilant and we will continue to do everything in our power to protect the security. Of the United States and the safety of the American people. So -- -- a couple questions. -- -- -- Colleen McCain Nelson of the Wall Street. You have little confidence. I'm eastern mountains and at this point -- near. Eight king's mountain he bring political system. As I said it's not our job to choose -- leaders part of what are patriots fought for. During many years in Iraq was. The right and the opportunity for Iraqis to determine. Their own destiny and choose their own leaders. But I don't think it is there's any secret that right now at least. There is. Deep divisions between Sunni Shia and Kurdish leaders. And as long as those deep divisions. Continue or -- is going to be very hard. For an Iraqi central government to direct an Iraqi military to deal with the useless. And so we've consulted with prime minister Maliki and we've said that to him privately. Which said it publicly that. -- whether he is prime minister or. Any other leader. Aspires to lead the country. That it has to be an agenda in which Sunni Sheehan for. All feel that they have the opportunity to advance their interest through the political process and we've seen over the last two years. Actually dating back to. 20082009. But think worse over the last two years the sense. Among Sunnis that their interest we're about the answer to that. Legislation that had been promised. Around -- -- -- of that patient had been stalled. I think you hear similar complaints. That. The government in Baghdad has not sufficiently reached out. To some of the tribes and have been able to bring them in to a process. That. You know gives them a sense of being part of a unity government or. Single nation state and that has to be worked through part of the reason why we saw. Better equipped. Iraqi Security Forces with larger numbers. Not be able to hold contested territory. Against sale. It. Probably reflects. That lack of it's a sense of commitment on the part of Sunni communities. Two. To work with Baghdad and that -- to be fixed -- -- -- get through this crisis. -- -- -- He was president the American -- business decision and you're making today as -- preview of coming to try. That's the number of advisors -- your -- to send me just the beginning of the things on the ground scenario down the road. Why is Iraq's civil war in the national security interests of the United States are you concerned about the potential for mission -- I think we always have to guard against -- -- so let me repeat. What -- said in the past. American combat troops are not going to be fighting in Iraq again. We do not have the ability to simply solve this problem. By. Sending in tens of thousands of troops. And committing. The kinds of blood treasure that has already been expended in Iraq ultimately this is something that is gonna have to be sold by the Iraqis. It -- our national security interest not to see. An all out civil war inside of Iraq. Not just for humanitarian reasons but because that. Ultimately can be just destabilizing throughout the region and in addition to. Having strong allies -- that we are committed to protecting. Obviously. Issues like energy. And and global energy markets continues to be important. We also have an interest in making sure that we don't have a safe haven. That continues to grow. For IS IL and other extremist jihadist groups who. Could use that as a base of operations for planning and targeting. Ourselves our personnel overseas. And eventually the -- And you -- if they accumulate. More money. They accumulate. More ammunition. More military capability. Larger numbers. That poses grave dangers not just to allies bars like Jordan which is very close by. But it also poses. You know great danger potentially to. Europe and ultimately the United States we have already seen -- inside of Syria. That work groups like ISI -- -- that right now. Are fighting -- other extremist groups or. On the Saudi regime it was a non responsive to. It's Sunni majority there. That that has attracted more and more. -- us or would be jihadist some of them from Europe they then start. Traveling back to Europe and and that over time can created -- Terrorists -- That could harm so. We have. Humanitarian interests in preventing what -- We have strategic interests in stability in the region we have counterterrorism interest all those have to be addressed the the initial. Effort for us to get situation awareness through. The the reconnaissance and surveillance. That we've already done coupled -- it's some. Some -- best people on the ground. Doing assessments. Exactly what the situation is starting by the way -- the perimeter around Baghdad and making sure that that's not overrun. That's a good investment for us to make but that does not put that does not. Foreshadow. A larger commitment of troops to actually fight in Iraq. That would not be. Effective. In meeting the core interest that we have to hear you wish you had left -- residual force in Iraq and progress. About that decision point -- your mind there wasn't a decision made by -- -- decision made by the Iraqi Government. We offer. A modest residual force to help continue to train. And -- Iraqi Security Forces. We have a core requirement which we require in any. Situation -- -- -- US troops overseas matters is that they are provided immunity at the in the east since they are being invited by. The sovereign government there are so that if for example they end up acting in self defense if they are attacked. And find themselves in and -- -- situation. That they're not somehow hauled before. A foreign court. That's -- requirements that we have for US troop presence anyway. The Iraqi Government. And for mr. Maliki. Declined to provide us that -- And so. I think it is important -- to recognize that despite that decision. That we have continued to. Provide them weren't very intensive. Advice and support. And -- continued throughout this process over the last five years. To not only. Offer them our assistance. Militarily. But we've also continued to urge. The kinds of political compromises. That. We think. Are ultimately necessary in order for them to have a functioning multi. Sectarian democracy. Inside the country. -- it Juliet. Opera. And. Especially Syria -- -- and the United States and its surprise you can -- its training directly to Syrian opposition. Expansion of this -- war into Iraq change your mind about pick up weapons and training were -- willing to -- the opposition there. Never content to experience kids' area we have augmenting our assistance can significantly. Collaborate on what you're doing. That assessment about the dangers of what it was having -- -- -- existed. Since we its. Since the very beginning the Syrian civil war the question has never been whether we thought this was a serious problem. The question has always been. Is -- -- the capacity of moderate opposition. On the ground. To absorb and counteract. Extremists. That it might have been pouring in as well -- Assad regime. Supported by Iran and Russia that out man them and was -- And so. We have. Consistently. Provided that opposition would support. Oftentimes the challenge is. If you have former farmers. -- teachers. 40. Pharmacists. Who. Now or. Taking up. Opposition against. A battle -- emerging. With support from external actors that have a lot at stake how quickly can you get them trained. How effective are you able to mobilize. And -- that continues to be a challenge and even before. The situation that we saw what -- -- going -- two Iraq we had already. -- tried to maximize. What we could do to support not moderate opposition. That not only can. Counteract the brutality of -- But also. Can make sure that. In the minds of Sony's. They don't think that their only alternative is either. Mr. us or. Extremist groups like -- -- or almost. It's. I think that they're the key. To both Syria and Iran. Is going to be a combination of what happens inside the country working -- Moderate Syrian. Opposition working where. An Iraqi Government that is inclusive. And thus laying down a more -- counterterrorism platform. That. Gets all the countries in the region. Pulling in the same direction. And I alluded to this in the West Point speech this is. Talked about it today -- respect to the counterterrorism partnership fund. -- there's going to be a long term problem in this region. In which. We have to build. And and and partner -- -- countries that are committed to our interests our values. And. And at the same time. We have immediate problems with terrorist organizations -- maybe advances. And rather than try to play -- them -- wherever of these. Terrorist organizations may pop up what we have to do is to be able to build effective partnerships. Make sure that they have capacity. Some of the assets that have been. Devoted solely to Afghanistan over the last decade. We've got to shift. To make sure that we have coverage in the Middle East and North Africa. You look at a country like Yemen. -- very impoverished country. And one that has its own. Secretary and war ethnic divisions there as we do have a committed partner and president Hadi in his government. And we have been able to. Helped to develop their capacities without. Putting large numbers of US troops on the ground. At the same time as we've got. -- CT -- counterterrorism. Capabilities were able to go after folks that might. Try to hit our embassy or might be trying to export terrorism. Into Europe or the United States and looking at how we can create more of those models. It's going to be. Part of the solution. In dealing with both Syria and Iraq but in order for -- for us to do that we still need to have. Actual governments on the grounds that we can partner with and that we've got some confidence. Are gonna pursue. The political policies -- inclusiveness in Yemen for example it. A wide ranging national dialogue that took a long time but help to give people a sense that there is. -- -- A legitimate political outlet four grievances that they may have. Thank you sir going back to where you see prime minister Al-Maliki. Playing a role at this point you -- it at that time to rise above differences that there's a need for more inclusive government is he unifier and how much clout as the United States ultimately -- -- and -- truck this morning. Well and we still provide them significant assistance. I think they recognize that. Unlike some other players in the region we don't have. Territorial ambitions. In their country. Were not looking to control their assets -- their energy. We want to make sure there were vindicated. The enormous effort and sacrifice that was made by. Our troops. In giving them an opportunity to build a stable. Inclusive society. Can prosper and deliver. For the basic needs and aspirations of the Iraqi People. And at the same time they are a sovereign country. They have their own politics. And what we have. Tried to do is to give them our best advice about. How they can solve their political problems. Now that they are in crisis. We are indicating to them that. There's not going to be a simple military solution to this issue. If you start saying. The various groups inside of Iraq simply go to their respective corners. Then. It is almost certain that. In Baghdad the central government will not be able to control the huge chunks of their own country. The only way they can do that is if there are credible Sunni leaders. Both -- at the national level and at the local level who have confidence that. Is -- a majority. That the Kurds that all those folks are committed to a fair and just governments of the country. Right now that doesn't exist there's too much suspicion there's too much mistrust. And that the good news is that an election took place in which despite. All this mistress despite all this frustration despite all -- You still have millions of Iraqis turn out. In some cases and very dangerous circumstances. You now have very. Court that has certified those elections and you have a constitutional process. To advance government formation. So far at least. -- the one. Bit of encouraging news we've seen inside of Iraq is that all the parties have said they continue to be committed to. Choosing. A leadership. Any government through. The existing constitutional or. So. -- what what you're saying I think it is. As as the prospects of civil war. Many. Iraqi leaders. Stepping back and saying. What's up -- back in the Beatrice let's see if we can resolve this political but they don't have a lot of time and you have. A group like -- -- that is doing everything has been at -- to -- the country back -- the -- And so one of the messages that we -- for prime minister Maliki but also for. The speaker of the house and you know the other leadership inside of Iraq is. Get going on this on this government formation. It'll make it a lot easier for them to shape a military strategy. -- also make it possible for us department. Much more effectively. Then we can for a. You ministers track is -- unified candy you have rules and after what we've seen play out over the last couple weeks. What. I think successes. -- before him and other Iraqi leaders as we speak. Right now they can make a series of decisions regardless of what's happened in the past. Right now -- a moment where. The fate of Iraq. Hangs in the balance and the test. For all of them is going to be whether they can overcome. The mistrust. The deep sectarian divisions. In some cases just political opportunism. And say this is bigger than anyone of us and we've got to make sure that we. We do what's right for the Iraqi People. And and that's a challenge that's not something that the United States can do for them. That's not something by the way of the United States. Armed forces can do for them. We can provide them the space. We can provide them the tools. But ultimately they're gonna have to make those decisions in the meantime my job is to make sure that. American personnel there are safe. That we are consulting would be Iraqi Security Forces there were getting. -- better. Assessment of what's on the ground. And there were recognizing the dangers. I have -- over the long term and developing the kinds of comprehensive. It's counterterrorism strategies that we're gonna need to deal with this issue and that's gunners involved. Some short term. Responses to make sure that. -- -- loses is not. Obtaining capacity to. To endanger us directly or allies and partners. But it also can require. Some long term strategies as well because part of what we've seen with respect -- is. -- they've they've broader trend -- that I talked about it Westport. It's a rather than a single network. A discreet network. Of terrorists. This fluid. Combination. Hardened terrorists. Disaffected. Local leadership. And where there is vacuums they're filling it and creating the potential for. No serious danger. For all concerned. -- -- -- -- -- -- You know our view is that Iran can play a constructive role. If it is helping. To send the same message to. The Iraqi Government the worsening. Which is. Iraqi only holds together if its exclusive. And that if the interest of Sunni Shia incurred. Are all respected. If Iran is coming in solely as. An armed force on behalf of the -- and as if it is claimed in that fashion. Than that probably. Worsens the situation and the prospect four government formation would actually be constructive over the long term. -- -- -- Well beyond I think that -- -- Iraq's leaders have to make decisions. I think Iran. Has heard from us we've indicated to them it is important for them to. Avoid. Steps that might. In courage. And the kind of secretary of sports that there might lead to civil war. And -- -- The one thing that thinkers news. You -- -- to be emphasized we we have deep differences with Iran across the board on hold host of issues. Obviously what's happened in Syria. In part is the result. Iran coming in hot and heavy on one side. And you know Iran obviously should consider the fact that if it is. It if -- view. Of the region is solely through sectarian flames. They could find themselves fighting in the whole -- places and that's probably not good for the running an economy or the -- -- people. Over the long term either I suspect there there -- folks in Iran who recognize them. KO AK Iraq in chaos on their borders is probably not in their interest. But old habits die hard and you know we'll have to see whether. They they can take. What I think. What would be a more promising path over the next several -- I'm thank you very -- your life. Quite as -- making clear that he will not send American combat troops into the fighting in Iraq to fight. The militant terrorist group ideas which he calls ISI Al Islamic state of Iraq and the Levant but he did outline a number says he is prepared and is taking. Already. To fight that grouping can including securing the embassy increasing intelligence and surveillance. Says he's prepared to send up to 300 military advisors to train Iraqi forces and in the future prepared to take targeted military action. If necessary on -- Martha Raddatz in Baghdad marking the president also increasing the pressure. On the Iraqi prime minister Al-Maliki. Saying he's got to be more inclusive that the test is before him right now and the fate of Iraq hangs in the balance. Well -- you know the Maliki government has not at all being included it is why it has been so easily. For those I asked I asked militants to storm -- parents. The people in those counts the Sunnis actually at this point trust the -- -- -- More than they trust them Alexy government -- he now knows that he -- his country is in dire shape. He is leading with the United States for air strikes and helped. That the United States in actions isn't a good position to pressure analogy he needs help. That's where the leverage comes right now the prison saying he's open. To military action not prepared to order you don't want to bring in Steve -- colonel Stephen -- and ABC news consultant served in the Marines flew fighter missions. Over Iraq during the first desert storm also served in the state department of Defense Department. Steve tell us what difference. These 300 special forces can make -- -- 300 ar sent and what kind of targeted airstrikes are we talking about. Here. I think there's a distinction here George that the president seemed to be very clear that he was not gonna have -- doing anything other than training remember back when president Kennedy started the special forces the army green berets as we know them that was -- -- job is to do this training so putting them in there is really what they're what they were designed to do. But you have to think back and you remember that we spent twenty billion dollars over a decade. And many US lives were lost trying to train the Iraqi Army the same Iraqi Army the president just referred to collapsed -- after the first shots in Mosul. So it's -- understand perhaps what might be gained by sending in 300 more trainers at this point in. Conflict and Jonathan Karl the White House we just heard from the president -- -- next steps in Iraq the president outlined a series of steps he has -- -- take all of which fall short of any kind of a major military intervention the president did announce that he would be sending up to. 300 special operations troops to Iraq to train and advise the Iraqi military that being the single biggest that he also mentioned that there are military assets in the region are prepared to take out targeted imprecise airstrikes. In Iraq should the situation warned that it should he give that order but he did make it very clear if it comes to air strikes even the kind of targeted. -- precise air strikes you're talking about. He would first consult congress before -- taking those steps -- want to go to Martha Raddatz. Who is in Baghdad right now mark good what was your sense this number of 300. Military advisors going to Iraq was bigger than what we had heard. But what exactly could actually accomplish. Well I'm well much bigger than we've heard and and I think the big mystery -- what will they be training those Iraqi troops to do. We have been training their -- now for a decade. And bay dropped their weapons and ran so I don't know exactly what they're training Iraqi forces do you -- it to be Forward Air controller since it to help. We had some sort of air strike because as you know John if you don't have Forward Air controller on the ground you trust the people who say yep it's targeted the good -- bring in the aircraft. And it it is very difficult and that's when you get in Q including familiar to you definitely don't want to hear. -- he did he apparently didn't little -- Any kind of -- -- I would quit being very careful that in church week that and it began when he was answering questioning senator -- eastern short term. Action that the US would shake I think -- Baghdad's came under an immediate threat or the American Embassy came under an immediate threat -- they could. Militants who they were quite certain work heading for either vocation. I think would likely do. But again very difficult but they don't have Forward Air controller and the other hundred -- it'll -- as is will being advisors. Go outside. Of the embassy where will -- be here where will be military force it's being. We don't really have -- status of forces agreement about bringing in new troops are covered all. And did you make me resonated very clear that if he did come to air strikes they would be targeted -- precise sounds like nothing approaching the kind of large scale. A military bombardment that the president was preparing to do. In Syria wanna bring in. Steve -- retired Marine Corps officer who flew combat missions over Baghdad initial stages of the war. Steve what what was your sense to mark this question what would these advisors be doing the president seemed to be suggesting they wouldn't. All being in Baghdad they would be stations in other parts of the country as well what what what's your sense of when exactly -- be training and what they be doing. Right John so. Obviously the -- we saw the collapse the Iraqi Army last week we know that the Iraqi Army needs a lot of training. So where they get applied and how -- get applied will be probably a joint decision. It's between US military commanders. And the Iraqi Government. But again as Martha said this is this an important point that if we don't have an agreement with the Iraqis they'll protect our troops legally. Then they're not going to be what we go outside the wire meaning outside some sort of base so they may just be staying on an Iraqi base very US compound. And trying to train these Iraqis inside the wires we say. But that's not the kind of -- they need they need to be out in the field with them in training with them on a daily basis and advising them in combat situations. Well -- the president said that the reason why didn't leave behind. They -- residual force after combat troops left Iraq is the Iraqis refuse to provide that kind of a legal agreement giving our troops immunity. So is -- any indication now that he is sending a limited number back into Iraq that there is some kind of an immunity agreement will these troops. Have the immunity that Iraqis refuse to give when when our combat troops left. I can't imagine that the US should send in troops if they didn't have some sort of agreement and -- unity our troops I cannot imagine that. So there's certainly -- deal making going on behind the scenes -- -- big mystery to me is whether they will in Shaq. Go outside the -- the president has not made that clear -- We don't know where those. Troops will be we don't know it's as he's dead whether they'll remain at an Iraqi based whether they'll remain at the embassy and the Iraqis will come to damp. We just don't know what they'll be doing I also think when bear interest sinking in and perhaps. He -- -- -- better at explaining that. But the fusion of intelligence he talked about these intelligence -- The Iraqis have basically gathered intelligence and they don't have any way. To put all that intelligence together I think that's one of the reasons the United States slightly missions. They had those fighter jet that there had those at the -- that there. They have to bring all that intelligence gathering together in one -- a figure out what's going on and get its human intelligent people on the ground that the Iraqis -- -- The term that I'm hearing here at the White House in the national security staff Steve -- the phrase soaking the area getting as much. Intelligence as possible offer from all sources. How important is that how much of -- -- About some of the United States does very well John you know that we're very good -- visual reconnaissance we have spy satellites we have our F -- -- -- overhead Baghdad right now have reconnaissance pods on them we have drones. So the ability to do that in things like signals intelligence listening but are things that the US is traditionally good at. But this is an insurgency that were trying to help the Iraqis fight -- -- guys on the ground that looked just like the people we're trying to help. So to get out there we need human intelligence we have to be able to see who the potential enemy as. Yes is not gonna drop bombs on what could potentially be civilians and cause some sort of an international incident. And have one part of the population turned against us if we don't have people with eyes on the potential target. All right that's all the time we have now thank you Steve Gainer here in Washington Martha Raddatz in Baghdad thanks for watching. This. Has been a special from the --

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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