The US troops their fighting Islamic State (ISIS) militants in Iraq will not have a combat mission, President Barack Obama has told an audience on September 17.
Barack Obama said he would not commit “to fighting another ground war in Iraq”.
The president said the US had the “unique abilities” to respond to ISIS, including air support for Iraqi and Kurdish fighters on the ground.
The US has already undertaken 162 air strikes against IS in Iraq since mid-August.
Barack Obama’s new strategy allows similar attacks in Syria, and calls on a coalition of 40 countries to confront the militant group.
The president’s reassurance to soldiers at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, came a day after a top US general suggested he would recommend US ground troops in the fight against ISIS if the international campaign of air strikes failed.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Martin Dempsey confirmed that under the current plan, US military advisers would help the Iraqi army to plan attacks against ISIS, also known as ISIL.
The jihadist group controls large areas of Syria and northern Iraq. It has between 20,000 and 31,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria, according to CIA estimates.
Barack Obama arrived overnight in Tampa, Florida, where Central Command (CENTCOM) – responsible for the Middle East and Central Asia – is based.
After briefings with top military officials, Barack Obama told an assembly of troops that “the American forces that have been deployed to Iraq do not and will not have a combat mission”.
The US would see that the group was eventually defeated, Barack Obama said: “If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.”
“We cannot do for the Iraqis what they must do for themselves,” he said, adding other countries would help with both air support and training.
“After a decade of massive ground deployments it is more effective to use our unique capabilities in support of our partners on the ground so they can secure their own countries’ futures,” Barack Obama said.
Barack Obama highlighted partner countries like France and the UK, which were already flying reconnaissance flights in Iraq, and Saudi Arabia, which has agreed to host a US-led training program for Syrian rebel groups fighting ISIS.
“Our armed forces are unparalleled and unique,” Barack Obama said.
“So when we’ve got a big problem somewhere around the world, it falls on our shoulders.”
Meanwhile, Iraqi PM Haider al-Abadi rejected as “out of the question” the possibility that foreign ground troops would be allowed to fight in his country.
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