Pentagon Denies 'Mission Creep' in Iraq as US Again Increases Number of Troops
July 2, 2014
James Rosen / McClatchy & Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com & Spencer Ackerman/ The Guardian
While continuing to insist they are trying to keep their involvement limited to "advisory" operations, the Pentagon continues to pour military equipment into Iraq. Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, confirmed that 650 American troops were on the ground in Iraq, all of them dispatched by President Barack Obama since June 16.
Pentagon Denies 'Mission Creep' in Iraq
As New US Troop Presence Reaches 650
James Rosen / McClatchy
WASHINGTON (July 1, 2014) -- The Pentagon insisted Tuesday that there is "no mission creep" in Iraq despite the rising number of US troops in the embattled country with more on the way.
Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, confirmed that 650 American troops were on the ground in Iraq, all of them dispatched by President Barack Obama since June 16.
Two hundred US troops sent Monday, including 100 previously staged in Kuwait, were accompanied by Army Apache attack helicopters to be based at the Baghdad airport.
Kirby said Sunni Islamic militants who've seized large sections of the country since June 10 pose a threat to Baghdad but are meeting stiffened resistance from Iraqi security forces aided by Shiite militiamen.
"It continues to be very dangerous," Kirby told reporters at the Pentagon. "The threat continues to be very real. But we have seen Iraqi security forces in and around Baghdad begin to reinforce themselves and prepare to defend, and they are taking the offensive. And we saw this over the weekend up near Tikrit (north of Baghdad). So it's a contested environment right now."
With Obama authorized under the War Powers Act to send up to 770 total troops to Iraq, or 120 more than are now there, reporters pressed Kirby on whether that number is a ceiling or could go still higher.
Kirby provided somewhat mixed responses.
The admiral said the 770 authorized troops should be enough to accomplish two stated missions: protect the US Embassy and the Baghdad airport, which has been used in recent weeks to move some of the embassy's 5,300 employees; and assess the current security situation and the capabilities of Iraqi security forces.
At the same time, Kirby said that Obama must have the flexibility to make the best decisions to preserve US interests in and around Iraq.
"Is there a grand total (of troops)? No. But in terms of the grand total limit, he's the commander in chief. He makes these decisions. And he needs the freedom to make those decisions as he and the military commanders and the civilian leadership here in the Pentagon advise him to."
Kirby denied, however, that the United States is being inexorably pulled back into a war from which Obama withdrew the last US combat brigades at the end of 2011.
"There's no mission creep," Kirby said. "The missions haven't changed. Some of the numbers have been added in the security assistance realm. And, look, it's very fluid. And the commander in chief and the military leadership here in the building, I think, expect and should have a certain measure of flexibility here in how we manage the resources available."
Even as reporters asked whether US involvement in Iraq is escalating, Baghdad's envoy to Washington said American delay in delivering promised weapons is forcing the Iraqi government to turn to Iran, Russia and Syria for help.
"Time is not on our side," Ambassador Lukman Faily said at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. "Further delay only benefits the terrorists."
The fledgling Iraqi air force announced Sunday that Russia was sending five SU-25 jet fighters to Iraq to help the government repulse attacks by the rebels called the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
The group announced Sunday it was changing its name simply to Islamic State and declared the creation of a caliphate stretching from Diyala, Iraq, near the Iran border to the east to Aleppo, Syria, not far from Turkey to the north and east.
"What they call themselves is up to them," Kirby said Tuesday. "I understand they've declared this caliphate. But declaring something doesn't make it so."
Kirby said there's been no delay in the delivery of 36 F-16 fighter jets to Iraq, saying they are on course to arrive on schedule this fall.
Yet he acknowledged that the recent removal of American contractors from Joint Base Balad, headquarters of the Iraqi air force, could complicate delivery of the American jets.
"We had to move some contractors out -- or, actually, the company had to move contractors out of Balad, contractors that were there to help prepare for the arrival of those aircraft," Kirby said. "They are no longer working there at Balad. So that could have an impact on eventual delivery."
Iraq is a sovereign nation, Kirby said, and the United States cannot control which other governments it reaches out to for help.
While insisting that the United States has no plans to collaborate with Iran, Kirby said reporters asking about Iranian troops' presence in Iraq to bolster government forces "presumes that we're in open conflict with Iran."
Noting recent diplomatic contacts between Washington and Tehran, Kirby added: "That doesn't need to be the case."
US Troops Will Fly Attack Helicopters in Iraq
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(July 1, 2014) -- While continuing to insist they are trying to keep their involvement limited to "advisory" operations, the Pentagon continues to pour military equipment into Iraq, with US combat troops on the ground to carry out this new Iraq War.
Today, the Pentagon is rushing Apache attack helicopters to Baghdad, along with more Shadow drones, couching it as a move to prepare for a possible evacuation of the US Embassy.
Yet far from being focused on the embassy itself, officials say the US ground troops will be operating the helicopter gunships to "protect US interests" in and around Baghdad.
The US had already done multiple escalations centered on the notion they needed to prepare to evacuate the US Embassy, but at this point the deployments seem centered around laying the groundwork for a long-term US military operation in the nation.
Pentagon Says Growing US Forces
In Iraq Need 'Flexibility' for Mission
Spencer Ackerman/ The Guardian
WASHINGTON (July 1, 2014) -- Officially, the missions the US military is launching in Baghdad are static, unchanging and defined. Protect the US embassy and other American personnel in Iraq. Assess the threat from the Islamic State and the performance of the Iraqi military. Figure out what steps the Pentagon next ought to take to aid Iraq through its crisis.
Unofficially, the Pentagon is indicating that the number of troops in Iraq is likely to continue the incremental expansion that President Barack Obama launched last month after Islamic State forces overran Sunni areas of the country.
A day after the Pentagon announced an additional 300 US troops arrived in Iraq to secure the embassy, its press secretary, Rear Admiral John Kirby, contended that Obama needs "flexibility" in assessing how many army special forces, marines and other uniformed personnel are sufficient for the missions he wants executed.
"There's no mission creep. The missions haven't changed. Some of the numbers have been added in the security assistance realm," Kirby said Tuesday.
"The commander-in-chief and the military leadership here in the building, I think, expect and should have a certain measure of flexibility here in how we manage the resources available."
That "flexibility", critics say, is taking the form of a slowly deepening military involvement. According to statistics Kirby clarified on Tuesday, 120 of the 300 army Special Forces "advisers" authorized to plot the defense of Baghdad have yet to arrive. Among their jobs is to tell the Pentagon later this month what the follow-on role of the United States ought to be, in response to what Kirby described as a continued threat to Baghdad.
Already the skies above Iraq are dotted with US aircraft. The supplemental embassy protection force took with them Apache attack helicopters and unarmed drones, which the Guardian has learned are Shadows, last seen flown over Iraq as tactical surveillance aircraft during the 2003-2011 US war. They come in addition to the larger, armed drones already flying up to 35 daily missions above Islamic State-held territory.
But they are not the aircraft the Iraqi government wants. Lukman Faily, Baghdad's ambassador to Washington, on Tuesday reiterated his plea to use US combat airpower against the jihadist militants, leavening his request with a warning that Obama's intransigence will compel Baghdad to turn to US enemies and rivals such as Iran, Syria and Russia to take up the slack. The Daily Beast reported that Russian Su-25 fighter jets are set to fly over Iraq.
Kirby sounded a sanguine note when asked during a Tuesday briefing about Iran and Russia filling the gaps the US has thus far left.
Iraq is "a sovereign state, a sovereign government. They have the right to speak to whoever they wish to in terms of security discussions. . . . We continue to urge all nations involved and interested in this, whatever actions they take, whatever decisions they make, that it doesn't inflame the sectarian tension on the ground there."
Since the Islamic State began its march through Iraq, Obama administration officials have warned that Americanizing the Iraqi response would be futile absent a transformed Iraqi political leadership that will include disaffected Sunnis -- something of a mantra, often thwarted in Iraq, since the Iraqi insurgency began in 2003. That process stalled in the Iraqi parliament on Tuesday, raising questions about Baghdad's seriousness despite its talk of urgency.
But the Obama administration has not wanted to expressly make air strikes contingent on a new government, in large part because it neither wants to be responsible for a new Iraqi power structure nor does it want to appear as if it has installed a new government.
Asked about the stalled formation of the next Iraqi government, Kirby said he doesn't see "any impact to these limited missions". With that, Kirby neatly elided its impact to any follow-on missions, both on the ground and in the air.
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