On Friday, President Obama authorized the sending another 1,500 American non-combat troops to Iraq. The timing of the announcement hit a specific trifecta, coming just three days after the disastrous midterm elections, following a two-hour lunch meeting with congressional leaders, and landing within the margins of a Friday news dump.
In a Defense Department statement, Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby offered that the troops will be deployed "to expand our advise and assist mission and initiate a comprehensive training effort for Iraqi forces." Kirby also emphasized the non-combat nature of the mission, focusing on the training of Iraqi troops:
U.S. Central Command will establish several sites across Iraq that will accommodate the training of 12 Iraqi brigades, specifically nine Iraqi army and three Peshmerga brigades. These sites will be located in northern, western, and southern Iraq. Coalition partners will join U.S. personnel at these locations to help build Iraqi capacity and capability. The training will be funded through the request for an Iraq Train and Equip Fund that the administration will submit to Congress as well as from the Government of Iraq.
Nearly three years after the last American combat troops left Iraq, the scaling up of American personnel started in June with a few hundred troops sent to protect the embassy in Baghdad and was buttressed by the assignment of 300 military advisers. With Friday's announcement, the number of American troops in Iraq will surpass 3,000, an aggressive near-doubling of the troop total.
As Helene Cooper noted, the White House will also "ask Congress for $5.6 billion for overseas contingency operations, including $1.6 billion to train and equip Iraqi troops."
In anticipation of the coming request, Representative Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, who heads the House Armed Services Committee, said he welcomed the move, but "remain[s] concerned that the President’s strategy to defeat ISIL is insufficient."
The request comes as Congress is gearing up to debate a broader authorization of the president's military campaign. The president has insisted that the troops and airstrikes he has deployed thus far are legal under the 13-year-old congressional use-of-force authorization that followed the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001, but on Thursday he said he would seek a new resolution for the ISIS campaign.
That debate could start when lawmakers return for a lame-duck session next week, but a vote is likely to wait until the new Congress gavels into session in January. For now, what the White House wants most is the money.
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