Obama Lays Out Iraq Proposals, But What Lies Beyond?

Before the White House press corps Thursday, President Obama laid out his proposal for a U.S. military response in Iraq. He said he's prepared to send up to 300 military advisers to support Iraq's security forces, leaving open the possibility of targeted air strikes in the future. Melissa Block talks to retired Lt. Gen. Michael Barbero about Obama's plan.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block. Here are the headlines of what President Obama layed out this afternoon regarding any U.S. military response to the extremist surge in Iraq - first, no ground forces returning to combat.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: American combat troops are not going to be fighting in Iraq again.

BLOCK: But the President said the U.S. has increased its intelligence and surveillance assets in the region. Also, the president mentioned joint operation centers in Baghdad and northern Iraq to share intelligence and coordinate planning with Iraq's military. He said he's prepared to send military advisors - up to 300 - to train and support Iraq's security forces. And on the question of U.S. military strikes...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

OBAMA: Going forward, we will be prepared to take targeted and precise military action if and when we determine that the situation on the ground requires it.

BLOCK: Joining me to talk through what the president said is retired Lieutenant General Michael Barbero. He completed three tours of duty in Iraq from 2003 to 2011, and for two of those years he oversaw the training of Iraqi security forces. General Barbero, welcome to the program.

LIEUTENANT GENERAL MICHAEL BARBERO: Thank you.

BLOCK: I want to ask you, first, about these joint operation centers and the military advisors that are apparently going to be sent. Decode that for us. Who would these be? Would that be special forces? And what would their role be?

BARBERO: Well, first, the joint operation centers - we had established those in 2008 or so to help the Iraqi security forces deal with the insurgency and also, frankly, to de-conflict on the ground, the areas between the Kurdish region and the rest of Iraq. So we have experience in operating in these and so do they. There'll be a communication center to hopefully help them develop the actionable intelligence, which is absolutely essential in this operation. And as far as these advisors, they would be advising the leaders, I would think, on targeting this network and also to hopefully develop and control some of the airstrikes.

BLOCK: Well, let's talk a little bit further about that because the president was asked about mission creep. It's hard to keep his contained.

BARBERO: Well, it is, and given what the commander-in-chief described, I'm not sure how effective that will be. Yes, you do need additional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, but the decisive effect in this kind of counterinsurgency is precise targeting against a network - against the leaders, against the financiers, against the suppliers and the organizers of these attacks. If we're just organizing targets for airstrikes and guys in the back of pickup trucks, that will not be effective.

BLOCK: Well, here's what I don't understand about this. Because since ISIS now controls whole cities - whole swaths of territory - if the Iraqi forces are going to get those cities back, aren't you talking about an extended ground campaign? It's not something that drone strikes or targeted pinpoint strikes would address.

BARBERO: This will be a lengthy effort. We - our forces, when I was there in 2000 - the Summer of 2007, we moved into Diyala province and the city of Baqubah to dislocate al-Qaeda and Iraq forces that had occupied those areas. And it was a tough, hard fight. It takes time. It takes highly skilled forces. It takes a combination of conventional forces, but it also requires the very sophisticated special operations forces that only we possess.

BLOCK: We heard President Obama, today, repeat his call on the Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to get going on a unity government, as he put it, to include meaningful participation from Sunnis and from Kurds. Based on your experience with Nouri al-Maliki in particular, do you see him as at all inclined to tilt in that direction - to bring other leaders in?

BARBERO: I have not seen the evidence that he has been inclined to do that in the past, and if you listen to his rhetoric and statements over the last week, he has been sectarian in nature also. So I do not see the indicators that he's willing or ready to do the actions or take the steps that are required to really get at the conditions that support this crisis.

BLOCK: General Barbero, thanks so much for your time.

BARBERO: Thank you very much.

BLOCK: That's retired Lieutenant General Michael Barbero. He was deputy commander in Iraq until January of 2011.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.