President Obama said Thursday that the United States will not send troops back into combat in Iraq, but said he and his national security team are preparing to take further action if necessary.
"Going forward we will be prepared to take targeted and precise military action if and when we determine that the situation on the ground requires it," Mr. Obama said. "American forces will not be returning to combat in Iraq but we will help Iraqis as they take the fight to terrorists who threaten the Iraqi people, the region, and American interests as well."
The president also announced that he will be sending up to 300 military advisers to assist Iraqi security forces. He noted that the "best and most effective response" to the insurgents threatening Iraqi security will be a partnership with local Iraqi forces.
The president also said he has directed his team to "significantly" increase intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets to give the U.S. a better picture of what is happening inside the country, and he has worked to secure U.S. embassy and other personnel operating inside of Iraq.
Mr. Obama's announcement comes after a Thursday morning meeting with his national security team and on the heels of a meeting with the top four leaders in Congress Wednesday evening, where he indicated he does not need additional congressional authorization for action in Iraq, according to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
The president also stressed the "urgent" need for a more inclusive political process in Iraq and said he will be dispatching Secretary of State John Kerry to the Middle East and Europe for meetings with U.S. allies and partners.
"Iraqi leaders must rise above their differences and come together around a political plan for Iraq's future. Shia, Sunni, Kurds, all Iraqis must have confidence that they can advance their interests and aspirations through the political process rather than through violence," the president said.
While he said that the U.S. should not be choosing Iraq's leaders, he sent an indirect warning to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, saying, "only leaders who are able to govern with an inclusive agenda are going to be truly bring the Iraqi people together and help them through this crisis."
The U.S. will not pursue a military option that supports one sect inside Iraq at the expense of another, the president added.
Prior to the announcement, Mr. Obama had only ruled out the possibility of boots on the ground but had asked his national security advisers to prepare a range of other options for him. On Capitol Hill, he faces competing pressure from Democrats who are reluctant to get involved in Iraq again and Republicans who are calling for the use of air strikes to help stop the advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
U.S. military aircraft, including war planes from the U.S.S. Bush, have already begun flying surveillance missions over Iraq, including Navy P-3s surveillance aircraft based in Bahrain that have been flying over Baghdad, reports CBS News Pentagon correspondent David Martin.
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey told Congress this week that Iraq has asked for air strikes against the insurgents who now control much of Northern and Western Iraq.
So far, Dempsey said, the insurgents and Iraqi troops are "intermingled," making air strikes difficult. The U.S. is still attempting to close intelligence gapsbefore taking military or covert action. The Pentagon is now planning to send about 100 Army Green Berets to Iraq to serve as American eyes and ears on the ground, Martin reports -- that would not go into battle alongside Iraqi troops.
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