The White House says there are no immediate plans to open up more bases in Iraq. The remarks come a day after President Obama authorized 450 additional troops to a fifth Iraqi base to assist local forces in the fight against the Islamic State militant group in Anbar province.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, told reporters Thursday that U.S. troops stationed at al-Taqqadam Air Base in Anbar could be a model for additional hubs in Iraq, where American military personnel train, assist and advise Iraqi forces.
When asked about additional bases, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Thursday there are no “immediate or specific plans” to add U.S. troops to Iraq, and that Dempsey’s comments simply reflect his role in long-term and contingency planning.
The spokesman noted that if President Obama’s military advisers did recommend opening another facility, it would reflect the fact that ongoing training efforts of Iraqi forces have been “useful.”
“Rather than being evidence of mission creep, it would be evidence of some progress in the ongoing mission to support the Iraqis as they take the fight to ISIL on the ground in their own country,” said Earnest.
Earnest responded to broader concerns of mission creep by noting the stark difference of the U.S. military presence in Iraq when President Obama took office in 2009 compared to the current mission in that country.
“There is a significant difference between 150,000 troops in a combat role and 3,500 U.S. troops in roles... not in a combat role...in a variety of roles,” said Earnest.
The 3,500 U.S. military personnel in Iraq include the 450 troops going to Anbar to train, advise, and assist Iraqi forces, particularly Sunni tribal fighters, in the fight to retake the provincial capital Ramadi from Islamic State militants.
Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Michael O’Hanlon says sending additional U.S. forces to Iraq is a good move, but not enough.
“Overall, I’m a little concerned about the Obama administration’s incrementalist approach, which I think concedes too much initiative to the enemy and also is somewhat too leisurely and slow,” said O’Hanlon.
Criticism echoed by others as the president struggles with a fight that he himself concedes is not a “short term proposition.”