Obama says US troop increase in Iraq a ‘new phase’
BAGHDAD - Agence France Presse
REUTERS PhotoU.S. President Barack Obama has said sending more troops to Iraq signals a “new phase” in the fight against the Islamic State og Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group, amid unconfirmed reports its leader has been wounded.
After earlier unveiling plans to send up to 1,500 more American troops to Iraq to advise and train its forces, Obama told CBS News the U.S.-led effort to defeat ISIL was moving to a new stage.
“Phase one was getting an Iraqi government that was inclusive and credible -- and we now have done that,” Obama told the broadcaster.
“Rather than just try to halt ISIL’s momentum, we’re now in a position to start going on some offence,” he added, stressing the need for Iraqi ground troops to start pushing back IS fighters.
“We will provide them close air support once they are prepared to start going on the offence against ISIL,” Obama said.
“But what we will not be doing is having our troops do the fighting.”
The extra troops announced by Obama would roughly double the number of American military personnel in Iraq to about 3,100, a significant return of U.S. forces by a president who has hailed his role in their 2011 departure.
A U.S.-led coalition has already been carrying out air strikes against IS in Syria and Iraq, where the extremist group has declared an Islamic “caliphate” in large areas of the two countries under its control.
Air strikes targeted a gathering of ISIL leaders near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul late on Nov. 7, the Pentagon said, and Iraqi authorities were seeking to determine whether the group’s chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had been killed or wounded.
Despite media reports citing the Iraqi interior and defense ministries as saying Baghdadi was wounded, senior officers from both ministries told AFP that no such information has been confirmed.
Meanwhile, Egypt’s deadliest militant group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, which has carried out a string of deadly attacks from its stronghold in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, said it was pledging its loyalty al-Baghdadi.