Back to Anbar: Obama to send 500 more troops to Iraq
What the New York Times is calling a "major shift in focus" of the president's Iraq policy is actually just more of the same: up to 500 additional U.S. troops will be stationed in Anbar province, taking over a military base currently occupied by Shia militias. Their mission will be to train the regular Iraqi army as well as Sunni tribesmen who have been reluctant to join the fight in Anbar because of the anti-Sunni policies of the central government.
The changes come as U.S. officials come to terms with the continuing shortcomings of Iraqi forces, on whom the U.S. strategy against the militant group relies. A year after Islamic State fighters captured much of northern and western Iraq, a U.S.-led campaign of airstrikes and renewed military training has not translated into decisive Iraqi victories.
The vulnerabilities of Iraqi forces were evident in May when they retreated from the city of Ramadi, handing the capital of western Iraq’s Anbar province to Islamic State fighters. That defeat showed that despite a nascent U.S. training effort, Iraqi troops still suffer from discipline and morale problems that have often made them ineffective against a much smaller insurgent force.
A U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing deliberations, said the United States would probably expand its presence in Anbar province. Several assessment visits have been made to a military base near the town of Habbaniya, with a view to moving U.S. advisers to the site. That would put the American troops less then 20 miles outside Ramadi and allow them to help Iraqi forces and tribal fighters prepare for a battle to retake the city.
“We are looking at it closely,” the official said. “We need to firm up our presence out there. There’s been a debate about getting a site in the eastern part of Anbar for some time. Iraqis had asked for it. Ramadi forced the issue.”
This week, President Obama noted the need to intensify the training effort in Iraq, promising as he wrapped up a meeting of world leaders in Germany to find ways to accelerate training and delivery of weapons to U.S. allies in Iraq.
“All the countries in the international community are prepared to do more to train the Iraqi security force if they feel like that additional work has been taken advantage of,” Obama said.
While the Post says that this move has been discussed for months, the timing of this leak would seem to be connected to President Obama's remarks about the strategy to defeat the Islamic State being "not yet complete." It was an embarassing admission that led to a storm of criticism from all sides, so the White House saw a need to change the conversation.
Will 500 more trainers make a difference? We've already got 3,000 men in Iraq, and the Iraqi army still runs away from Islamic State fighters. It took six years of patient and thorough training to develop the Iraqi army before Prime Minister al-Maliki destroyed it with cronyism and sectarian favoritism. I don't think the Lord will vouchsafe us a similar time period. There might not even be an Iraq this time next year.