“"It's always been a fantasy, this idea that we could provide some light arms or even more sophisticated arms to what was essentially an opposition made up of former doctors, farmers, pharmacists, and so forth, that that they were going to be able to battle a well-armed state, but also a well-armed state backed by Russia, backed by Iran, a battle hardened Hezbollah. That was never in the cards."that they could overthrow Assad.”
If we take ISIL on and lose,
we will unlock the gates of hell,
and hell will come our way.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, 11 September 2014
Iraq Operations 2014 - Mission Creep
President Obama was elected in 2008 promising a new era of engagement with the world that would not be characterized by US military involvement in wars like those in Afghanistan and Iraq. Speaking at the West Point Academy Commencement Ceremony on 28 May 2014, Obama said "... to say that we have an interest in pursuing peace and freedom beyond our borders is not to say that every problem has a military solution. Since World War II, some of our most costly mistakes came not from our restraint, but from our willingness to rush into military adventures without thinking through the consequences -- without building international support and legitimacy for our action; without leveling with the American people about the sacrifices required.... U.S. military action cannot be the only -- or even primary -- component of our leadership in every instance. Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail.... The United States will use military force, unilaterally if necessary, when our core interests demand it -- when our people are threatened, when our livelihoods are at stake, when the security of our allies is in danger."
The new president had hoped to refocus on rebuilding the economy on the home front, which was still reeling from a devastating recession. But now approaching the final two years of his presidency, President Obama was confronted with another military challenge in Iraq and Syria and the success of that mission will likely play a role in how historians eventually view his time in office.
The United States dispatched military forces in several attempts to free its citizens held captive in Syria. But the US Defense Department on 20 August 2014 said a rescue mission authorized by President Barack Obama earlier in the summer failed because the hostages were not at the location where they were believed to have been held. The Pentagon did not say exactly where and when the rescue attempt was carried out.
According to a joint survey released 28 September 2014 conducted by NBC, the Wall Street Journal and the Annenberg Public Policy Center, 72% of Americans believe the United States will deploy combat troops against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. “After a decade of massive ground deployments, it is more effective to use our unique capabilities in support of partners on the ground so they can secure their own countries’ futures,” US President Barack Obama said in a statement, cited by NBC, stressing that American ground troops will not have combat missions in Iraq and Syria. However, despite the US President’s announcement, nearly three quarters of Americans think that the deployment of US ground troops is highly likely. Moreover, 45% of US citizens consider the use of ground troops necessary while 37% are strictly opposed.
Recent history shows the public is often initially supportive of U.S. military ventures, but that the support can wane fairly quickly. Gallup found that more than 80 percent of Americans supported the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, while 64 percent supported sending ground forces into Iraq on the eve of the invasion in 2003. But a September 2014 Associated Press/Gfk poll found that three in four Americans now believe both of those wars will be judged as failures.
June 2014 - Embassy Security
The situation in Iraq deteriorated dramatically in June 2014, after Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant [ISIL] militants captured Mosul, the capital of the northern Iraqi province of Manawa, as well as a number of small settlements in the neighboring province of Kirkuk and part of the Salah al-Din province, including its administrative center, the city of Tikrit. The militants also announced their intention to march on Baghdad.
US President Barack Obama said 19 June 2014 the United States "will be prepared to take targeted and precise military action" to blunt the rapid advance of Islamic militants that have been spreading sectarian violence in Iraq. The president, speaking from the White House briefing room, outlined a multipart plan to help prevent Iraq from descending into outright civil war. It includes sending up to 300 military advisers, along with increasing security and surveillance in the war-torn country. The plan did not entail sending combat troops, Obama emphasized.
Any military aid to Iraq, including from the US, must be approved by the United Nations Security Council first, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said 19 June 2014. "I am sure and convinced that any military actions, even upon government’s request … can be approved only by the UN Security Council, and then they are legitimate and correspond to norms and principles of the United Nations Charter," Lukashevich said commenting Iraq’s request for US military aid. The situation in Iraq is the result of reckless actions bypassing collective international decision-making bodies, the spokesman added.
By 13 June 2014 the United States began repositioning military assets closer to Iraq, as Baghdad braces for a possible attack by Sunni militants that had seized large swaths of territory in the country. President Barack Obama said he understood what was at stake. "Iraqi security forces have proven unable to defend a number of cities, which has allowed the terrorists to overrun a part of Iraq's territory. And this poses a danger to Iraq and its people. And given the nature of these terrorists, it could pose a threat eventually to American interests, as well,"
Starting 14 June 2014, a number of DoD teams totaling approximately 170 US personnel began arriving in Baghdad from within the US Central Command Area of Responsibility. DoD also moved approximately 100 personnel into the region to provide airfield management, security, and logistics support, if required.
The US sent aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush into the Gulf to provide US President Barack Obama with military options if the security situation in Iraq continues to deteriorate. US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the aircraft carrier – along with the guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea and the guided-missile destroyer USS Truxtun – would be in position on June 15.
While the president has ruled out sending ground forces back into Iraq, he met with his national security team 16 June 2014 to consider other options. They include possible air strikes against the Sunni militants who already control large parts of northern Iraq and have vowed to seize Baghdad from the Shiite-led government. The US also is considering working with Iran. But the Pentagon said it had no plans to enter into military cooperation with the Iranians in any action in Iraq.
On 16 June 2014, consistent with the War Powers Resolution, the President transmitted a report notifying the Congress that up to approximately 275 US military personnel are deploying to Iraq to provide support and security for US personnel and the US Embassy in Baghdad. The personnel will provide assistance to the Department of State in connection with the temporary relocation of some staff from the US Embassy in Baghdad to the US Consulates General in Basra and Erbil and to the Iraq Support Unit in Amman. These US military personnel are entering Iraq with the consent of the Government of Iraq. The US Embassy in Baghdad remains open, and a substantial majority of the US Embassy presence in Iraq will remain in place and the embassy will be fully equipped to carry out its national security mission.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel ordered the amphibious transport dock ship USS Mesa Verde into the Arabian Gulf. The ship had completed its transit through the Strait of Hormuz. It's presence in the Gulf added to that of other US naval ships already there -- including the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush -- and provides the commander-in-chief additional options to protect American citizens and interests in Iraq, should he choose to use them. USS Mesa Verde is capable of conducting a variety of quick reaction and crisis response operations. The ship carries a complement of MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft. USS Mesa Verde is part of the USS Bataan Amphibious Ready Group, which departed Norfolk, Virginia, in February and was operating in the region on a routine deployment to support maritime security operations.
On June 16, the Department of State began relocating some staff members from the Embassy to the Consulates General in Basrah and Erbil and Iraq Support Unit in Amman. The Embassy remained open and is operating. The ability of the Embassy to respond to situations in which US citizens face difficulty, including arrests, is extremely limited.
24 June 2014 - Military Advisers
The United States pledged “intense" and "sustained” support for Iraq as it battled Sunni militants. And by 24 June 2014 a major component of that help - teams of military advisers - could move into action thanks to an agreement between the US and Iraqi governments granting legal protections to US forces. But there were growing concerns about how much that support can do amid signs the Iraqi military was withering under pressure.
The primary US mission was to assess the capabilities of the Iraqi army in and around Baghdad. The US had six teams – with a total of 90 commandos – in the capital, but they would need two or three weeks to complete assessments.
In response to the violence, the United States added 200 more troops to bolster security at its embassy and Baghdad's international airport. President Barack Obama authorized the deployment 30 June 2014, saying in a letter to Congress it will also include helicopters and unmanned drones. The latest announcement brought to nearly 800 the number of US forces in Iraq.
07 August 2014 - Protective Reaction Strikes
President Barack Obama announced 07 August 2014 that he had granted permission to strike if US personnel and facilities were imperiled. He also had expressed fear that the militants were conducting a campaign of genocide against the Yazidi, an Iraqi religious minority. Fleeing ISIL forces, thousands of the Yazidis and Iraqi Christians had been stranded for days without food, water or shelter on the slopes of Sinjar mountain. “Today, America is coming to help,” said Obama
“We can act carefully and responsibly to prevent a potential act of genocide. That's what we're doing on that mountain. I've therefore targeted air strikes if necessary to help forces in Iraq as they fight to break the siege of Mount Sinjar and protect the civilians trapped there,” said Obama.
US military aircraft conducted a strike on Islamist militant artillery used against Kurdish forces defending Irbil. The bombing represents the widest use of American military force in Iraq since U.S. troops pulled out in 2011, following nearly a decade of war. Turkish officials distanced themselves from any involvement in the airstrikes, saying the US air base in Turkey was not used. Humanitarian aid was also delivered to the Yazidi refugees. Three aircraft dropped 72 bundles of emergency food and water supplies; 60 safely reached them.
The Pentagon sent 130 military advisers to the semi-autonomous Kurdish region on 13 August 2014, in addition to the 250 who are already on the ground in northern Iraq. a team of US military personnel, accompanied by US Agency for International Development (USAID), conducted an assessment of the situation on Mount Sinjar, where thousands of Yazidis have been trapped by Islamic State (IS) insurgents. The US troops assessed that there are far fewer Yazidis on Mt. Sinjar than previously feared in part because of the success of humanitarian air drops and that the refugees are in better condition than previously believed.
The United States will continue airstrikes against the Islamic States (IS) militants in Iraq, President Barack Obama said 14 August 2014, adding that he does not expect there to be an additional operation to evacuate people from mountain. “We will continue airstrikes to protect our people and facilities in Iraq. We have increased the delivery of military assistance to Iraqi and Kurdish forces fighting ISIL [IS] on the front lines,” Obama said in his address. Obama noted that the US airstrikes and airdrops in Iraq “saved thousands of Iraqis trapped on a mount.”
The US State Department asked for additional military personnel to provide security in Iraq, an unnamed official told Reuters 20 August 2014. The request for additional military personnel, which would include no more than 300 people, had not yet been approved. The American military had already sent more than 800 soldiers to Iraq since Islamic State militants took over much of the country’s north in June.
A senior White House official said 25 August 2014 President Barack Obama has authorized surveillance flights over Syria. The official said that Obama had not approved any military action, but that the U.S. is preparing military options for combating the Islamic State fighters who had taken over large areas in eastern Syria and northern and western Iraq. US planes had been carrying out airstrikes in Iraq, helping Iraqi and Kurdish forces take back territory from the militants, including a dam in Mosul that is key to providing power to many in Iraq. Pentagon officials expressed the need to go after the Islamic State group on both sides of the border. The operation is complicated by the ongoing civil war in Syria. White House officials say Obama does not want US action to be seen as aiding Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The Pentagon said 29 Auguat 2014 US military operations against Islamic State militants in Iraq were costing, on average, $7.5 million per day. The news came a day after President Barack Obama downplayed the possibility of adding U.S. airstrikes against Islamic extremists in Syria.
On September 02, 2014 President Obama ordered another 350 U.S. military personnel to Iraq to protect American diplomats and facilities in Baghdad. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said the additional forces will not take on a combat role, but because diplomatic officials made the request for more security.
10 September 2014 - Expanding the Air War
On 10 September 2014 President Barack Obama proposed a substantially expanded American military campaign against Islamic State militants, vowing a “relentless effort” to wipe out the terrorists “wherever they exist...” :
- "First, we will conduct a systematic campaign of airstrikes... I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq....
- Second, we will increase our support to forces fighting these terrorists on the ground. ...
- Third, we will continue to draw on our substantial counterterrorism capabilities to prevent ISIL attacks. ...
- Fourth, we will continue to provide humanitarian assistance to innocent civilians who have been displaced by this terrorist organization...."
As part of the effort, the US also sent an additional 475 service members to Iraq in a non-combat role to support Iraqi and Kurdish forces, the president said. Senate Democratic leaders prepared legislation that would authorize the U.S. military to arm and train pro-Western Syrian rebels in the fight against Islamic State militants. The White House request asked for “authority to train and equip appropriately vetted elements of the Syrian armed opposition to help defend the Syrian people from attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and the Syrian regime” as well as stabilize areas in Syria under rebel control.
Obama told key government officials that he believed he already had the power to order an increased military offensive without congressional approval. But he said he would welcome a favorable legislative vote to show the country was united in fighting the militants.
Obama chose General John Allen to coordinate the war effort against the militants. The general is a retired Marine who played a pivotal role in the Iraqi Sunni uprising against al Qaida in 2007, and later served as America's top military commander in Afghanistan. In August 2014, General Allen told ABC News that the fight would require a broad-scope approach that went beyond pin-point air strikes.
On 11 September 2014, Kerry won the backing for a "coordinated military campaign" from Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Jordan, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman and arch rivals Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Saudi Arabia agreed to an American request to provide a base to train 5000 of what Washington and its allies call "moderate" elements within the Syrian insurgency.
Canberra deployed 400 air force personnel and 200 Special Forces soldiers who will act as military advisers to Iraqi troops or the Kurdish Peshmerga. They wwould be based at a U.S. facility in the United Arab Emirates. Eight Australian Super Hornet fighter jets would be on standby to join a multinational effort to halt the advance of Islamist militants in Iraq. Australia will join a coalition of nations, including the United States, Britain, France, Canada, Jordan, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. Abbott’s decision 14 September 2014 had the support of the main Labor opposition, but the Greens party leader, Christine Milne, accused the government of "blindly [following] the United States into another war in Iraq and Syria."
On September 16, 2014 the top US military officer left open the possibility that American ground troops could be deployed to Iraq to fight Islamic State militants. US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Martin Dempsey told a congressional panel Tuesday if he concluded US military advisers need to accompany Iraqi fighters into battle against the insurgents, he would ask President Barack Obama for approval. "If we reach the point where I believe our advisers should accompany Iraq troops on attacks against specific ISIL targets, I'll recommend that to the president," he said.
President Barack Obama vowed on September 17, 2014 the United States will not fight another ground war in Iraq, seeking to reassure Americans about the level of U.S. involvement after a top general suggested some combat troops could be deployed. Obama, who spent much of his presidency distancing himself from the Iraq war, stressed during a speech at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa that airstrikes would be the central U.S. contribution to the fight against Islamic State, along with coordinating a coalition that he said now includes more than 40 countries.
US military forces and partner nations, including Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, undertook military action against ISIL terrorists in Syria on 22 September 2014. A mix of fighters, bombers, remotely piloted aircraft and Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles conducted 14 strikes against ISIL targets. The strikes destroyed or damaged multiple ISIL targets in the vicinity of the towns of Ar Raqqah in north central Syria, Dayr az Zawr and Abu Kamal in eastern Syria and Al Hasakah in northeastern Syria. The targets included ISIL fighters, training compounds, headquarters and command and control facilities, storage facilities, a finance center, supply trucks and armed vehicles, the news release said. Separately, the United States also took action to disrupt the imminent attack plotting against the United States and Western interests conducted by a network of seasoned al-Qaida veterans known as the Khorasan Group.
US-led air strikes targeted Syrian oil installations held by the militant Islamic State (IS) group overnight and early on September 25, killing nearly 20 people. These strikes came on the third day of a US-led air campaign and appeared to be aimed at one of the militants' main revenue sources. The IS group captured most of Syria's largest oil fields earlier in the year and was believed to be partly funding its operations by smuggling oil out and selling it on the black market.
After seven hours of debate Friday, British lawmakers voted overwhelmingly on September 26, 2014 in favor of taking military action against the Islamic State. Lower House Speaker John Bercow announced the result. “The ayes to the right, 524," he said. "The no's to the left, 43. So the ayes have it, the ayes have it.” Earlier, Prime Minister David Cameron laid out his case for sending warplanes to Iraq. He said, “This is not a threat on the far side of the world. Left unchecked, we will face a terrorist caliphate on the shores of the Mediterranean, and bordering a NATO member, with a declared and proven determination to attack our country and our people.”
Denmark and Belgium became the latest countries to join the U.S.-led coalition that is launching airstrikes on Islamic State group militants in Iraq. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that the country's policy of not intervening militarily in Syria could evolve over time but there are no plans to do so for now. France had bombed Islamic State targets in Iraq but had not taken part in U.S.-led airstrikes against the radical Sunni militant group in Syria.
Islamic State militants changed tactics in the face of US air strikes in northern Iraq, ditching conspicuous convoys in favor of motorcycles and planting their black flags on civilian homes, tribal sources and eyewitnesses said. The sources reported fewer militant checkpoints to weed out “apostates” and less cellphone usage by the fighters since the airstrikes intensified.
British jet fighters on 30 September 2014 launched their first air strikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq. Two British warplanes identified and attacked a heavy weapons position that was endangering Kurdish forces in northern Iraq, then attacked an armed pickup truck with IS militants in the same area. British planes also flew missions in Anbar Province over Garma and Fallujah, which are both under IS control but surrounded by Iraqi government forces.
On 02 October 2014 the Turkish parliament approved a motion enabling the government to authorize cross-border military incursions into Iraq and Syria to battle Islamic State militants. The motion also allows foreign soldiers to be stationed in Turkey and to use its military bases for the same purposes.
In a reversal of policy, Turkey said October 20, 2014 it would allow Iraqi Kurds to use Turkish territory to support the besieged Syrian Kurdish city of Kobani. The announcement came after US forces air-dropped military supplies into the city currently under assault by Islamic State militants. Ankara may be looking to the Iraqi Kurdish fighters to mitigate the influence of the PKK in Kobani.
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