By John Ubaldi
Special Contributor to In Homeland Security
In an unexpected announcement Friday, President Barack Obama announced the deployment of 1,500 additional military forces to Iraq.
The deployment of additional forces doubles the amount of U.S. forces committed to the fight against ISIS Islamic fighters. The additional U.S. forces will expand the mission of training and advising Iraqi forces.
In a press release issued by the Department of Defense Friday, Secretary Hagel made this recommendation to President Obama based on a request of the Government of Iraq, U.S. Central Command’s assessment of Iraqi units, as well as the progress that Iraqi security forces have made in the field, and in concert with the development of a coalition campaign plan to defend key areas, and to go on the offensive against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
NBC News reported that this will include helping Iraqi forces in the highly volatile section of Anbar Province that News sources say is mostly under ISIS control. The sites from which the additional troops will operate will be “where Iraqi security forces are taking the fight to the enemy,” said Rear Adm. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, at a media briefing Friday.
The announcement of additional U.S. forces coincides with a report of a letter that President Obama secretly wrote last month to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in an effort to find common ground in fighting ISIS militant fighters in both Iraq and Syria.
The letter was aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear ambition and fighting a mutual enemy of both countries.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Mr. Obama had stressed to Mr. Khamenei that any cooperation on Islamic State was largely contingent on Iran reaching a comprehensive agreement with global powers on the future of Tehran’s nuclear program by a Nov. 24 diplomatic deadline.
The Journal continued to report that Mr. Obama’s letter also sought to assuage Iran’s concerns about the future of its close ally, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, according to another person briefed on the letter. It states that the U.S.’s military operations inside Syria are not targeted at Mr. Assad or his security forces.
This is the fourth letter that Obama has written Khamenei, but this letter may have more ramifications for the U.S. than simply trying to find mutual agreement with Iran regarding ISIS and Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Many of our traditional allies in the region already have a strained relationship with the U.S.; this will only exacerbate the rift further. As they see it, the U.S. is negotiating over their heads, with Iran (a Shiite nation) to defeat ISIS a Sunni terror group. They may not like ISIS, but they fear Iran more, especially Iran’s nuclear program.
This is not the first time the U.S. has initiated secret negotiations with Iran without informing our Arab allies. The Wall Street Journal reported that the Obama administration launched secret talks with Iran in the Omani capital of Muscat in mid-2012, but didn’t notify Washington’s Middle East allies of the covert diplomatic channel until late 2013.
By negotiating with Iran to defeat ISIS, how does the U.S. plan on leveraging the Sunni tribes in Iraq when they already are marginalized by the Shiite government in Baghdad? They may not embrace ISIS, but what happens to them once we defeat the Islamic State? Who protects them from the Shiite dominated Iraqi government?
How does the Free Syrian Army look at this? We are going to negotiate with Iran, who has supported Assad in Syria with funding and weapons, thereby killing thousands of Syrian civilians.
By sending more military personal to the region, the U.S. still has not articulated a coherent strategy in how it will re-stand the Iraqi army in rolling back ISIS in Iraq. Beyond airstrikes, how will the U.S. degrade and destroy ISIS in Syria, considering the free Syrian army has faced severe military setbacks in recent weeks?
With the midterm election over, and the Republicans now controlling both branches of Congress, the president will have less leeway in how he handles this crisis.
With these and other uncertainties looming in proximity, decisions will have to be made, as this will not wait until 2017.
About the Author: John Ubaldi is President of Ubaldi Reports which provides credible, political content, addressing domestic and global issues written by military veterans with expertise on domestic and international issues. He has a Master’s in National Security Studies from American Military University with a concentration in Middle Eastern Studies and a Bachelor’s in Government from California State University, Sacramento.
Read more of John’s articles at The Ubaldi Reports.