President Obama announced recently the deployment of up to 450 additional troops in Iraq as well as a new base. These troops will not be involved in combat, but instead will be training the Iraqi Security Services to fight the Islamic State (IS) to retake Ramadi. The increase in personnel will bring the number of American troops stationed in Iraq to 3 550, none of whom are on the front line. The training facility will be located at the Taqaddum military base in the eastern Anbar province. This will be the fifth American ‘train, advise and assist’ facility. This announcement comes as the Obama administration is under fire for its deficient strategy to combat IS, as the terrorist organisation has been making territorial gains. The problem does not lie with an unfinished strategy, as it is complete. The issue is that the strategy does not work.
The current strategy is a self-limited operation to provide training and logistics to local partners, like the Iraqi government, Sunni tribes, and moderate rebels in Syria, to become more engaged against IS. America has also assisted with airstrikes, but no ground troops. America has become less involved, as Obama does not want local actors to catch a free ride from the US, rather he wants to motivate regional partners to fight their own battles. If Obama wishes to advance and achieve US interests in the region, like defeating IS, than he must improve his approach.
Under the current strategy the Iraqis have retaken Tikrit with the assistance of American airstrikes, but the city remains a ghost town as so many of the buildings are rigged with explosives that the majority of residents have not returned to the city. Despite this victory, IS controls two provincial capitals (Ramadi and Mosul), as well as the city of Falluja.
The key weakness of Obama’s policy is the Iraqi Security Services. Despite their courageous efforts they cannot compete with IS. The US has already been down the same road of training Iraqi soldiers. Following the 2003 invasion of Iraq, one of America’s goals was to create a new Iraqi army after Saddam Hussein’s was defeated. After America left Iraq in 2011, the Iraqi army quickly fell apart due to favouritism and corruption under Nouri al-Malaki, Iraq’s prime minister from 2006 – 2014. Now, the military is starting anew again, but it appears nothing is improving. American Officers who were part of the training last time know their expectations have to be lowered. Army Major Dave Karsen has even compared the capability of the current Iraqi army to that of the American military in 1918. It is evident with the loss of Ramadi that the standard of the military must be higher to defeat IS.
The Iraqi Security Services cannot defeat IS alone. Obama has to be willing to become involved beyond training, or IS will not slow down. Senator John McCain has been a harsh critic of Obama’s policy, he suggests that the US military can become more immersed by using its own troops as spotters to call in airstrikes and provide Apache helicopters to aid Iraqi troops. While training facilities are vital to strengthening the Iraqi military and are important to the future stability of Iraq, they have their limits.
Though it appears that Obama is reluctant to put American troops back into battle so shortly after the war in Iraq, it is necessary if he wishes to defeat IS. An additional 450 troops appears to be a ‘quick fix’ solution to silence his critics. There should be a focus towards a long-term solution involving both military action and development to help rebuild the country to ensure IS can be defeated and avoid the risk of another radical group coming to power. However, this will not become a reality on the current path.