President Barack Obama isn’t ruling out sending additional troops to fight the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL) jihadists in Iraq.
“You know, as commander-in-chief I’m never going to say never,” Obama said in a Sunday interview with CBS’ “Face the Nation,” according to a transcript.
Obama was responding to suggestions that the US is succumbing to so-called “mission creep” in its fight against the Islamic State — gradually sending more and more soldiers until the conflict becomes indistinguishable from a formal war. On Friday, the White House announced it was doubling its ground troops in Iraq, bringing the total from 1,500 to 3,000.
But Obama told CBS he actually expected to see US troop totals to decline in the region.
“What the commanders who presented the plan to me say is that we may actually see fewer troops over time because now we’re seeing coalition members starting to partner with us on the training and assist effort,” he added.
Obama also dismissed critics who say the US is misleading the public by insisting these troops are not engaged in an active combat role. On Saturday, Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-New York) told Business Insider that such claims are “insulting” to veterans risking their lives for their country. And Kurdish officials have told the Daily Beast they’ve seen US special forces fighting on the ground.
“What hasn’t changed is our troops are not engaged in combat,” Obama said. “Essentially what we’re doing is we’re taking four training centers with coalition members that allow us to bring in Iraqi recruits, some of the Sunni tribes that are still resisting ISIL, giving them proper training, proper equipment, helping them with strategy, helping them with logistics.”
The president further said US troops could dispatch the Islamic State but militants would simply come back after the US withdraws. The only solution, Obama maintained, is for Iraqi troops to win the fight on the ground.