President Obama said today he is prepared to send up to 300 U.S. military advisers to Iraq to assist in training and advising Iraqi forces as the tense situation in the country continues to escalate.
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In a statement in the White House briefing room, Obama said the U.S. is prepared to create joint operation centers between the U.S. and Iraq in Baghdad and northern Iraq.
The president also said the U.S. is taking steps so that it's "prepared to take targeted and precise military action if and when we determine the situation on the ground requires it." The president said he would consult closely with Congress and leaders in Iraq before any decision is made.
Here are some more details on the Special Forces troops President Obama has ordered to Iraq, according to senior U.S. officials:
- The first troops will arrive in Iraq “very soon” – they will come from forces already stationed in the Middle East.
- The troops will be divided into teams of a dozen each. The first teams will be sent to Baghdad and the surrounding areas, but ultimately will be stationed in northern Iraq as well. They will be embedded with the Iraqi military at senior levels – at first at the headquarter level, eventually at the brigade level. Others will be at new Joint Operation Centers with US and Iraqi troops.
- Not all 300 go right away. “Several” teams of one dozen trainers will go first, officials said.
- Their initial assignment will be to assess the capabilities and needs of the Iraqi forces. They will also add to the intelligence gathering capabilities. These troops would not be used to identify targets for possible future air strikes – but the officials did not rule out the possibility that they could help the Iraqis identify targets for air strikes.
- Intelligence gathering has been significantly ramped up – between manned and unmanned aircraft, they now have the capability to have 24 hour surveillance coverage.
- These troops will be covered by an immunity agreement of some kind – as are the handful of trainers already in Iraq.
Obama also said Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to the Middle East and Europe where he will talk about the situation in Iraq.
The president reiterated his pledge to not send combat boots back into Iraq.
"We always have to guard against mission creep," the president said. "American combat troops are not going to be fighting in Iraq again."
Before the announcement, Obama met with his national security team at the White House. The president huddled with congressional leaders at the White House on Wednesday where he told the lawmakers he would not need congressional authorization to carry out any of the actions he was considering at the time.
Earlier in the week, the president notified Congress that he was deploying up to 275 military personnel to provide support and security for the embassy in Baghdad.
Earlier in the day, House Speaker John Boehner criticized the president's recent handling of foreign policy matters.
"It's not just Iraq. It's Libya. It's Egypt. It's Syria. The spread of terrorism has increased exponentially under this president's leadership," Boehner said. "After the last election, I said that I hoped the president would seize this moment and take the lead, and here we are a year and a half later. You look at this presidency, and you can't help but get the sense that the wheels are coming off."
Boehner said he "heard a little bit" about the president's strategy in Iraq at an Oval Office meeting with Congressional leaders Wednesday, but he complained that the White House "has known for months" about the situation in Iraq and called on Obama to outline a broader strategy that would quell the spread of violence throughout the Middle East.
"With terrorists marching toward Baghdad, we've asked the president for a strategy to reverse the momentum and spread of terrorism," he said. "Until we know what the overall strategy is, we don't know what could be effective in reducing this violence."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who also attended Wednesday's White House meeting, said she does not believe President Obama needs to seek Congressional authorization to launch airstrikes in Iraq.
"I said this to the president and the group that a president does not need any additional congressional authority to act upon measures to protect our national security," Pelosi, D-Calif., said. "I didn't want that to be misinterpreted any support for boots on the ground, however."
ABC's John Parkinson contributed reporting.