U.S. to Put 'Boots on the Ground' in Iraq to Combat ISIL
In an op-ed in Politico and in an appearance at Davos World Economic Forum Friday morning, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced the U.S. will deploy "boots on the ground" in Iraq to help local forces fight the so-called Islamic State. The policy shift is a turnaround from the Obama's White House's previous stance of not deploying combat troops in Iraq and one sure to shape the foreign policy debate in the 2016 election.
Though the U.S. military presence in Iraq has been steadily growing over the past year-and-a-half this marks the first time an express acknowledgment of ground troops has been made by a senior official. The first of such deployments will, according to Sec. Carter, be the 101st Airborne Division
"Soldiers in the storied 101st Airborne Division will soon deploy to Iraq to join the fight against ISIL," Carter wrote in Politico. "They will head there with the support of the American people and armed with a clear campaign plan to deliver the barbaric organization a lasting defeat, which I personally shared with them last week at Fort Campbell."
The U.S. withdrew troops from Iraq in 2011, despite efforts to keep a "residual force" of 3,000 by then-Sectary of Defense Leon Panetta. The current war in Iraq began on August 7th, 2014 when Obama announced "limited," "humanitarian" airstrikes to protect an ethnic minority from ISIL fighters in Sinjar Mountain in Iraqi Kurdistan. In an interview at the time, Obama said he did not intervene to stop ISIL earlier "because that would have taken the pressure off of [Prime Minister Nuri Kamal] al-Maliki.” Prime Minister al-Maliki has since stepped down.
It remains unclear if the Obama administration plans on deploying any more troops. Sec. Carter's predecessor, Panetta, claimed that the fight against ISIL would be a "thirty-year war".
"We're looking for opportunities to do more, and there will be boots on the ground — I want to be clear about that — but it's a strategic question," Carter said. "Whether you are enabling local forces to take and hold, rather than trying to substitute for them".