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Monday, October 6, 2014

Obama's hollow 'no boots' pledge

It means little strategically, and what does it get him politically?

No boots. Really? Win McNamee/Getty Images No boots. Really?
As most everyone knows by now, America will not be committing our own “boots on the ground” in Iraq or Syria to solve the crisis with the Islamic State.
That is, of course, until we might. Or, even more cynically, except that we already have. With between 1,500 and 2,000 “military advisers” already in Iraq, it’s getting harder and harder to believe that President Obama’s promise of no boots on the ground is anything more than a political slogan.
But for the sake of argument, let’s take the administration at its word. What, then, is the plan to defeat ISIS? We know the administration plans to arm “moderate” rebels in Syria. But what about Iraq? By its own acknowledgments, air strikes alone will not be sufficient.

We got a clearer picture a couple weeks ago, when Secretary of State Kerry met with new Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, then proclaimed that the United States will help train the Iraqi Army to fight ISIS within its borders.
Of our assistance, Kerry said: “It will not just be reserved to bombs or direct military assistance. It will be comprehensive, with Iraqi forces on the ground in Iraq, with an army that will be reconstituted and trained.”
That’s right. The plan thus far from the Obama administration to “degrade and defeat” Islamic State terrorists is to train the very army we helped build and then virtually abandoned when the President pulled our troops out of the country in 2011.
What does today’s Iraqi Army look like as a result? Let me paint a picture:
Last week, residents of Fallujah claimed ISIS paraded 30 captured Iraqi troops around town in the back of military vehicles — which were also captured — blasting songs of praise for ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Elsewhere in Anbar Province, Camp Saqlawiyah was under siege after ISIS had successfully cut off the last remaining supply route from the Iraqi base to Fallujah. Between 300 and 500 Iraqi soldiers were either missing, kidnapped, dead or in hiding, according to the surviving troops.
One soldier, 1st Lt. Haider Majid, spoke of desperate attempts to get help during the weeklong siege: “There were no reinforcements, no food supplies, no medicine, no water, and then our ammunition began to run out. We called our leaders so many times. We called our commanders, we called members of parliament, but they just left us there to die.”
This week, ISIS reportedly seized two more towns in Anbar, Albu Etha and al-Hamdhiya. The head of the Anbar provincial council, Sabah Karhout, reported that “at least two battalions of the Iraqi Army, or 260 men,” were also under siege near Albu Etha.
Many soldiers have begun deserting their posts, and the Iraqi Army has started equipping untrained volunteers. This week the military also began a campaign to reenlist soldiers who had abandoned their units, offering them amnesty if they returned.
The Iraqi Army is so ill-equipped to deal with the ISIS threat that even Obama admitted over the weekend in an interview with “60 Minutes” that the United States initially overestimated the abilities of those fighters to ward off ISIS.
And yet, he still insists we can defeat ISIS in Iraq without U.S. boots on the ground.
You’d think that by putting a political talking point ahead of a military strategy, he would at least get some political return on his investment.
But since waging air strikes in Iraq and Syria, his abysmal disapproval numbers have not budged. Further, the American people don’t even believe him. Seventy-two percent believe the U.S. will end up using combat troops to stop ISIS anyway, according to a new NBC News/WSJ/Annenberg poll.
What’s even more compelling is that the American people are prepared to do so. A plurality of voters would favor sending American ground troops to fight ISIS if military commanders determined that was necessary, according to the same poll.
The Iraqi Army alone cannot be entrusted with this task. The American people understand we may have to send a small contingent of ground troops to finish the job. If the President is serious about defeating ISIS, he must abandon the political talking point and commit to a winning military strategy.
We’re all grownups. We can handle it.

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