PENTAGON — The United States is pledging “intense" and "sustained” support for Iraq as it battles Sunni militants. And now a major component of that help - teams of military advisers - can move into action thanks to an agreement between the U.S. and Iraqi governments granting legal protections to U.S. forces. But there are growing concerns about how much that support can do amid signs the Iraqi military is withering under pressure.
It has become a familiar scene in Iraq - militants with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant - ISIL (also known as ISIS) - celebrating another victory.
Those fleeing tell stories of horror.
"I wish I had camera with me to film what happened with us, so that you could see it with your own eyes," said Ali Shebban, an internally displaced Iraqi citizen. "Clashes all around. Children, women, old men all running."
In the U.S., more calls for airstrikes from lawmakers like Illinois Congressman Adam Kinzinger, a veteran of several Iraq combat deployments -- at an event honoring fallen soldiers.
“You’ll pin ISIS [ISIL] down in the villages they’re in, the town’s they’re in, restrict their freedom of movement and give the space to the Iraqi military to take their land back,” he said.
The Pentagon is already rushing ammunition, tank shells and other equipment to Iraq’s security forces.
Monday, Iraq’s Defense Ministry released video it says shows Iraqi helicopters firing missiles on ISIL forces, repelling an attack near a key oil refinery.
But there were also reports of new setbacks along the border with Jordan.
"The army is retreating from the border," said truck driver Nouri Hussein. "The border point is not stable. The situation is unstable.”
U.S. defense officials say Iraq’s security forces face a litany of problems, including a serious lack of leadership in some areas. But just how deep those problems run, remains a question.
Some former U.S. officials say to pin any hopes on Iraqi security forces at this point would be misguided.
“If the government is either acutely sectarian or acutely corrupt or both, so that large swaths of the population feel disenfranchised and in fact humiliated by their own government, no amount of local security forces are really going to make up for that deficit,” said Sarah Chayes, who was special adviser to former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen.
And while Iraqi security forces, especially in the north, appear to melt away, ISIL’s strategy seems to be working, says Former Army Ranger and Stratfor military analyst, Paul Floyd.
“They’ve been most effective by being this mobile over a large geographic area and basically dispersing conventional militaries to the point where they can’t be effective any more,” he said.
Now, it will be up to U.S. military advisers to see if they can help Iraq begin to turn that around.