Islamic State: Confusion as Obama declares there will be 'no new Iraq war'

President’s announcement is at odds with statement by Joint Chiefs of Staff that US forces could be sent to front line in Iraq

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Before an audience of uniformed servicemen and women at a Florida airbase President Barack Obama moved last night to lay to rest all notion of the US once again sending ground forces to Iraq, a day after America’s top military officer seemed to suggest that it could become an option in the battle against Isis.

The visit by Mr Obama to the US Central Command, Centcom, at MacDill Air Force base in Tampa, came amidst the expanding effort by the US and other Western nations, including the UK, to tackle Isis fighters in Iraq and, possibly, also in Syria.

However, it was overshadowed by uncertainty as to the assurances he had previously made that US ground forces would not get involved.

Those doubts were stirred on Tuesday when the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, told hearings on Capitol Hill that a time could come when he would recommend sending US Special Forces personnel, hundreds of whom have already been sent to Iraq as advisers, to the front lines.

But Mr Obama was blunt in reaffirming his opposition to any fresh American involvement in ground combat. American forces in Iraq “do not and will not” have a combat mission as part of the effort against Isis militants, he said. He had earlier received a briefing on the developing campaign against the terror group from officers at Centcom, which overseas US military efforts in the Middle East.


“As your commander-in-chief, I will not commit you and the rest of our forces to fighting another ground war in Iraq,” Mr Obama added, reiterating that it is his intention only to support national Iraqi forces battling the radical fighters.

He will be aware of anxiety about the US embarking on a slippery slope back into another overseas war. He also knows he was elected to office on a promise to end those wars.

General Dempsey’s comments on Tuesday caused some consternation suggesting a possible split, between Mr Obama and his top officers on what could come next in Iraq. “To be clear,” General Dempsey said, “if we reach the point where I believe our advisers should accompany Iraqi troops on attacks against specific [Isis] targets, I will recommend that to the President.”

Meanwhile yesterday, the Army’s Chief of Staff, General Raymond Odierno, also said at hearings on Capitol Hill that the US military does not believe that aerial intervention alone can seriously blunt or destroy the Isis forces.

Isis released a video called ‘Flames of War’ warning Obama not to target it. It showed wounded soldiers and beheadings

“You’ve got to have ground forces that are capable of going after them and rooting them out,” he said. He was speaking of Iraqi army forces doing the job, however, and not foreign troops.

Mr Obama insisted meanwhile that the US was taking on the task of combating the terror group only as the leader of a coalition of countries.

He said about 40 nations had offered assistance and named several that were already taking part, including the UK and France, which have been flying over Iraq with the US.

“This is not and will not be America’s fight alone,” he said. “This is not simply America against [Isis]… It is the world reacting to the brutality of [Isis].” 

He went on: “We will train and equip our partners. We will advise them and we will assist them. We will lead a broad coalition of countries which have a stake in this fight.” The militant group, which now controls territory in Iraq and in Syria, earlier released a video warning Mr Obama and the US not to target it. The 52-second film, Flames of War, shows tanks being hit, wounded US soldiers and men on their knees as they are about to be executed.

It was apparently released by al-Hayat Media Centre, which distributes Isis propaganda.

Mr Obama plans to use next week’s gathering of roughly 140 world leaders in New York for the annual United Nations summit to accelerate the formation of an international alliance to fight the group.

Video: US presidents announcing airstrikes in Iraq

He will also chair a special session of the Security Council, to be attended by David Cameron, to consider a resolution focusing on stopping foreign nationals going to Syria to fight with Isis.

The US is seeking unanimous adoption of the text which would oblige UN member states to take measures to block the recruitment of foreign fighters by Isis.

A draft of the text, obtained by The Independent, would require member states to take steps to “prevent and suppress the recruiting, organising, transporting or equipping” of anyone wanting to leave those countries to fight alongside terrorist forces.

While the remarks on Tuesday by General Dempsey seemed only to open a small crack towards a possible ground involvement in Iraq, they were enough to spread alarm, especially among some Democrats on the Hill.

“It’s for me a blanket ‘No,’” said Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in the House of Representatives. “I don’t think the American people are up for it.”

But the former Defence Secretary Robert Gates told CBS News yesterday that General Dempsey’s remark made sense because air power alone has its limitations.

“The reality is they’re not going be able to be successful against Isis strictly from the air,” he said.