Eleven years after then President George W. Bush announced "mission accomplished" and the end of major combat operations in Iraq, and three years after President Barack Obama finally removed the last U.S. troops under pressure from the Iraqi government, American officials contemplate inserting themselves, once again, into that country's bloody troubles. In the wake of the fall of the cities of Mosul and Tikrit to Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a splinter group that fell out with al-Qaeda, the president took to the White House South Lawn to promise some sort of military response to the terrorist group's sucesses.
"Over the last year, we've been steadily ramping up our security assistance to the Iraqi government with increased training, equipping and intelligence," said Obama. "Now, Iraq needs additional support to break the momentum of extremist groups and bolster the capabilities of Iraqi security forces. We will not be sending U.S. troops back into combat in Iraq, but I have asked my national security team to prepare a range of other options that could help support Iraqi security forces, and I'll be reviewing those options in the days ahead."
What sort of "other options" are contemplated remain uncertain, though experts speculate that military assistance and airstrikes may be in the works. Still, the president himself acknowledges that Iraqi troops "are not willing to stand and fight" against ISIS, bringing into question the effectiveness of military support for a demoralized army. And airstrikes alone are not generally considered an effective means of taking or holding ground.
Founded in 2004 and originally affiliated with al-Qaeda, ISIS fell out with its parent organization, which it may now be overshadowing. ISIS is said to be responsible for the deaths of thousands of Iraqi civilians. The group has since expanded into Syria, and flourished during that country's civil war. The organization's goal is to establish an Islamic state in the region—an accomplishment that it appears to be much closer to accomplishing than most people would have believed just weeks ago.
ISIS's triumphed in Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, when government forces simply abandoned their posts. As a result, the organization took the city and its resources intact, including large supplies of weaponry. The group's fighters promptly celebrated their victory by parading through the streets with captured arms and equipment (see image at right and video below).
Just what the United States can do to deny ISIS further victories in Iraq is an open question. But, one way or another, President Obama seems committed to renewing America's role in that country.