Crisis in Iraq: How Long Will U.S. Be Involved?

Retired Gen. Carter Ham and former Ambassador to Iraq Chris Hill on latest U.S. airstrikes in Iraq.
10:28 | 08/10/14

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Transcript for Crisis in Iraq: How Long Will U.S. Be Involved?
Starting right now on ABC's "This week" -- air strikes. I don't think we're going to solve this problem in weeks, I think this is going to take some time. U.s. Fighter jets back in the skies over Iraq, dropping bombs to protect American citizens and prevent a humanitarian castrophe. An ebola emergency. Are we prepared for a new virus threat? Plus, game-changer. The ncaa told it must allow athletes to be paid. Will college sports ever be the same? This morning, an ABC news exclusive, the president of the ncaa, here, live. From ABC news, "This week" with George stephanopoulos begins now. Good morning. Great to have you with us. I'm Martha Raddatz. We begin with the latest on the new U.S. Mission in Iraq. This weekend, more U.S. Air strikes against Isis militants, plus new U.S. Air drops of humanitarian aid to help thousands of civilians trapped on a mountain by Isis fighters. And just over night, U.N. Telling us at least 15,000 civilians have been able to escape. Meanwhile, president Obama is warning U.S. Military action in Iraq is a long-term project. Chief white house correspondent Jonathan Karl has the very latest with the president on Martha's vineyard. Reporter: Overnight the Pentagon released new information on the air strikes over terrorist targets in Iraq. 20 minutes later, U.S. Aircraft struck three more targets. With a follow-up strike destroying another. At 3:00 P.M. Eastern, the final target of the day was demolished. President Obama bluntly acknowledged there's no foreseeable end to U.S. Operations in Iraq. I'm not going to give a particular timetable because as I have said from the start, wherever and whenever U.S. Facilities are threatened, it's my obligation, my responsibility as commander in chief to make sure they're protected. Reporter: A key concern, the U.S. Consulate and hundreds of citizens in the city of erbil. Once thought to be Iraq's safest city is now threatened by the islamic group Isis. There is no doubt that their advance, their movement over the last several months has been more rapid than the intelligence estimates and I think the expectations of policymakers both in and out of -- outside of Iraq. Reporter: President Obama reaffirmed his promise not to send in ground troops and had this message for critics who say that the U.S. Would be in a better position if all U.S. Troops wouldn't have been withdrawn. There would be troops on the ground that would be vulnerable. Reporter: The U.S. Is also dropping relief supplies to a group trapped on a mountain top. U.s. Planes are at risk, too, on these missions. These cargo airplanes that don't have the same defensive capabilities that a fighter jet does, has to get very slow and low to the ground. They have to push things out and so, they're actually more vulnerable. Reporter: The president is here on Martha's vineyard for his family vacation. He's already played a round of golf. White house advisers say he's closely monitoring military operations over Iraq and receiving regularly briefings. He brought key members of his national security team, including Susan rice. Now, let's get the very latest on the ground in Iraq from Matt Bradley from the wall Street journal. Give us a sense of how concerned people are about erbil. Well, we have to remember that erbil was a flourishing city, that was growing economically over the last ten years. Especially in relation to Baghdad and it's not quite clear whether or not the units were there, these kurdish fighters will be able to defend the city. It's come as a major, major surprise this this group of islamic militias were able to make dwens against the peshmerga in the past week. So, it's a major concern that erbil could fall, considering these guys are only about 30 minutes. You got these air strikes going on. You got the stranded people on the mountain. This is going to be a long-term commitment no matter what from the U.S. That's what the president was saying in his speech yesterday. There's no real short-term solution to this conflict. We could say that this conflict could look like Libya, where the U.S. Intervention is just confined to aerial bombardment. But, really, the crux of the fight is going to have to come down to the Iraqi military. Which has fled in the islamic state militants and the kurdish peshmerga who have shown themselves outgund and outmaneuvered by the islamic state. It's going to be very hard to see how the Iraqi army and peshmerga will be able to win back some of the land they have already taken. Thank you, Matt. Thank you. Now for more on this strategy in Iraq, general Carter ham who commanded U.S. And coalition forces in mosul. And Christopher hill is a former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq. I want to start with you, general ham. You know mosul, erbil so well, I spent a lot of time there with you over the years, as you look at these small strikes on artillery, mortar positions, can they really have a long-term effect on Isis? Martha, I think the initial strikes are already having some effect. A few strikes by the united States, many more by the Iraqi air force which is encouraging, it appears to have at least given pause to the islamic extremists as they seek to advance toward erbil and other cities, but much more effort will be required to achieve a positive outcome longer term. Is there a danger of mission creep here? I don't think so. The president has very clearly stated no combat forces. It remains to be seen how much support the United States is ready to provide in my view, first to the kurdish regional government in Iraq and their armed forces, the peshmerga. But longer term, to help hopefully, a new Iraq government rebuild the Iraqi military. You heard what the president said what his goals were. Protect the infrastructure. How can you accomplish that without combat troops and how long does that take? It will be very difficult without -- without U.S. Ground forces or ground forces of others, which may -- they may be willing to participate. But it really centers around -- I think the president is right. There has got to be a responsible government in Iraq to which a future Iraqi army could be royal. Underlying cause of their quick evaporation under pressure from islamic extremists. I did this in January and even then he seemed to be waving a red flag about the violence there. How concerned should Americans be what's going on now? We have a real interest in the middle east and Iraq. Those aren't going to go away in time soon. We should be very, very concerned. Ambassador hill, should the U.S. Have been paying more attention to Iraq? Well, first of all, I think people are paying attention to Iraq but there are a lot of other crises in the world that may have drown it out. Or reduce the bandwidth. But certainly this is a problem that's not just in Iraq, it's a broader problem, Isis, whatever its origins, it's pretty clear that it's part of a situation in Syria that has metastized into Iraq. An improvement or the naming of a new prime minister not named Maliki might be helpful. I don't think it's going to solve this problem. Something that Hillary Clinton told the atlantic, she said, the failure to help Syrian rebels led to rise of Isis, do you agree? I'd put it a little differently. The idea that you could arm some rebels and not others I think is a difficult proposition. I think the failure to focus on Syria, the failure to come up with a political or diplomatic way forward, after all, if Assad was hit by a bus today, there would still be a problem in Syria because no one would know what that country is going to look like in the future. To come up with a diplomatic plan, keeps them out there fighting. Because they have no confidence that the international community is coalescing around one idea. So, I think that's the major problem in Syria more so than the idea that we haven't put more weapons out on the battlefield. General ham, you were the commander during benghazi, this certainly has had an effect on the president's decision, what lesson is learned there when you look at Iraq? Well, the circumstances are very, very different, of course, there was at least, as far as I'm aware, no indications of imminent attack of the U.S. Diplomatic facility in benghazi. The certain circumstance is different in Iraq where there's an imminent threat. So the level of preparation, I think, is much more significant in Iraq today than it was possible in Libya in 2012. Thanks very much, general ham, and thanks ambassador hill.

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

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