The Obama administration indicated Thursday that it is considering possible military options to help Iraq push back a surging Islamic group, raising the prospect of a return to military action in that country despite President Barack Obama’s 2011 claim that the U.S. mission in Iraq was over.
State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the administration was looking at ways to help Iraq after the group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria sacked Mosul and was threatening Baghdad. The only action Psaki ruled out at this point was sending in ground troops.
“What we’ve seen over the last couple of days is an indication that Iraq needs more help. Our team is working overtime on a range of options,” she said. “That does not include, to be clear, boots on the ground.”
She spoke after President Obama said Iraq is “going to need more help,” and said at this point, “I don’t rule out anything” in terms of how the U.S. will respond.
“The president made clear that in the short term, there may be an immediate need for additional military assistance,” Psaki added, referring to Obama’s remarks earlier in the day. Obama said the U.S. has “a stake in making sure that these jihadists are not getting a permanent foothold in either Iraq or Syria.”
The prospect of a return to war prompted angry responses from Republicans Thursday morning. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) delivered a scathing speech on the Senate floor in which he said Obama’s quick retreat from Iraq in 2011 is what gave the ISIS an opening in that country.
McCain said Obama’s whole national security team should be fired for contributing to the chaos in Iraq.
“We need a new team that knows what America’s national security interests are, and are more interested in national security than they are in politics,” McCain said. “If I sound angry, it’s because I am angry.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) proposed air strikes earlier in the day, and press reports say officials are also considering drone strikes.
Similarly, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) accused Obama of “taking a nap” on the issue of Iraq.
While U.S. military options are being considered, Psaki said the administration has already agreed to boost aid to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis displaced by the ISIS violence.
“We’re announcing today, we’re providing an additional $12.8 million to international organization partners working to meet the needs of internally displaced persons and conflict victims in Iraq,” she said.
Psaki said $6.6 million of that money would go to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to help buy humanitarian supplies. The other $6.2 million will go to other relief organizations to help deliver food, water and other relief items.
Psaki said in fiscal year 2014 so far, the U.S. has contributed $136 million in this type of aid to Iraq.