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Obama Rules Out Another Ground War In Iraq

President Obama speaks at U.S. Central Command, at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais
President Obama speaks at U.S. Central Command, at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday.

President Obama reiterated that he will not commit U.S. troops to fight another ground war in Iraq, adding that U.S. airstrikes, combined with expertise, would be more effective in defeating the group that calls itself the Islamic State.

"As your commander in chief, I will not commit you and the rest of our armed forces to fighting another ground war in Iraq," Obama said at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida.

His comments come a day after Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he was prepared to recommend a combat role for U.S. advisers or ground troops if the situation demands it.

"To be clear, if we reach the point where I believe our advisers should accompany Iraqi troops on attacks against specific ISIL targets, I will recommend that to the president," Dempsey said.

Obama said today that U.S. forces that have been deployed to Iraq will support Iraqi forces on the ground.

"After a decade of massive ground deployments, it is more effective to use our unique capabilities in support of partners on the ground so they can secure their own countries' futures," the president said. "That's the only solution that will succeed in the long term."

Indeed, the U.S. departure from Iraq in late 2011 has left that country mired in political instability and violence. The Sunni minority has complained of marginalization by the Shiite-led government, and more recently the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, has seized territory and assets in both Iraq and Syria.

The group says it wants to establish a caliphate in the region, and Obama said today that if left unchecked, the extremists "could pose a growing threat to the United States."

The U.S. has already conducted more than 160 airstrikes against the group, Obama said, adding that the U.S. will train and equip regional partners to fight the Sunni militants.

"We will lead a broad coalition of countries who have a stake in this fight, because this is not simply America vs. ISIL — this is the people, the region fighting against ISIL," he said. "It is the world rejecting the brutality of ISIL."

The president's appearance at MacDill Air Force Base came the same day the group released a video that promises that the "fighting has just begun."

Obama did not refer to the video, but said: "We're going to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy.

"Whether in Iraq or in Syria, these terrorists will learn what the leaders of al-Qaida already know: We mean what we say. Our reach is long. If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven. We will find you eventually."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Krishnadev Calamur
Krishnadev Calamur is NPR's deputy Washington editor. In this role, he helps oversee planning of the Washington desk's news coverage. He also edits NPR's Supreme Court coverage. Previously, Calamur was an editor and staff writer at The Atlantic. This is his second stint at NPR, having previously worked on NPR's website from 2008-15. Calamur received an M.A. in journalism from the University of Missouri.