Expert: More troops signals lengthy U.S. engagement in Iraq

WASHINGTON –The Obama Administration announced Tuesday that it’s planning to deploy 200 more U.S. combat troops to Iraq, prompting one military expert to predict that this is likely the start of “an expanded American role” that could increase to “a few thousand” more Americans on the ground before it’s over.

Michael O’Hanlon, senior fellow with the Brookings Institution, told WTOP that if this is “mission creep,” then it has to happen, because the Sunni extremists taking over large swaths of Syria and Iraq right now are “a very serious threat to national security for the United States.”

As a result, “we’re going to have to view it as a probably quite long, upcoming campaign,” he added.

“This ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) group is a very serious threat and it now controls a large swath of territory that means it can hide itself, intersperse itself within millions of Iraqis and Syrians. That is exactly the kind of environment where it can plan and prepare attacks,” said O’Hanlon. “That’s what we had with al Qaeda in Afghanistan before 9/11.”

The president announced the 200 additional combat-ready troops in a letter to congress on Tuesday. They will join 100 American combat troops deployed to Baghdad to defend the embassy earlier in June. This does not include the 275 non- combat troops ordered by Obama last week to serve as advisers.

That brings the total to nearly 800 American boots on the ground as of today.

The new troops, according to a Pentagon spokesman on Tuesday, will include security forces, rotary-wing aircraft, and unmanned aerial vehicles.

“The presence of these additional forces will help enable the embassy to continue its critical diplomatic mission and work with Iraq on challenges they are facing as they confront Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL),” said Spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby, in a statement.

O’Hanlon said there is no need at this time to call it a new war or invasion, but it is in Washington’s best interest to engage in full cooperation with Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki and Iraq’s central government, which is trying to stave off an onslaught by ISIL with its own U.S.-trained military and military hardware.

The government has endured growing losses in the last few weeks, of lives and territory. Meanwhile, there were 2,400 recorded Iraqi civilian deaths due to violence in June alone, the highest death rate since 2007.

“Yeah, I think this is going to expand considerably,” O’Hanlon said, noting that he did not rule out more U.S. Special Forces, commando raids, or even American air power in the near future.

“I think it might start to, ironically, look like what we are doing in Afghanistan in the months ahead,” and perhaps as the numbers in that country come down, the numbers of U.S. forces in Iraq will climb.

“I hope it will never be more than a few thousand people, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it gets in that realm.”

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