President Obama’s authorization of air strikes in Iraq has triggered unease among high-level former U.S. officials who say the administration still lacks a coherent strategy for beating back the growing al Qaeda-inspired militancy in the war-torn nation.
Retired Army Lt. Gen. James M. Dubik told The Washington Times that the strikes Friday against artillery and mortar positions of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) were “necessary but not sufficient” to seriously confront threat now posed to the region and to the wider world.
“There needs to be be a more comprehensive strategy rooted in the security interests of the United States,” said Gen. Dubik, who oversaw the training of he Iraqi army during the latter part of the U.S. mission that ended in 2011. “And the key security problem facing the U.S. is the creation there of an Islamic state, basically a sanctuary for terrorists — the very sanctuary that we’ve bee fighting for 13 years now to prevent.”
Mr. Obama asserted Thursday that the strikes were part of a “broader strategy that empowers Iraqis” to fight the militants on their own, but other military experts shared Gen. Dubik’s concerns.
Retired Army Lt. Gen. Dell Dailey, who headed the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command during the early 2000s and later served as the State Department’s counterterrorism coordinator, said that despite the recent deployment of a small number of U.S. “advisers” to Iraq, the administration has failed to outline how Iraqi forces will be empowered.
The move to begin bombing without a plan for what comes next “shows a lack of strategic vision,” Gen. Dailey said, adding that the administration is likely facing pushback from some of its own senior military advisers.
“This looks like something that’s been dreamed up inside the White House and not dreamed up at U.S. Central Command,” he said.
In a public address on Thursday night, President Obama went to lengths to frame his decision in humanitarian terms, driven by a need to deliver supplies to some 40,000 ethnic Iraqi Yazidis trapped by Islamic State fighters in the Sinjar Mountain area roughly 50 miles west of Mosul.
The area around the mountain is controlled by extremists, who have also made advances on the Kurdish Iraqi city of Erbil during recent days.
Senior White House aides have argued that the strikes were also a precautionary measure to protect U.S. citizens currently in Erbil.
Dozens of officials, mainly from the Pentagon, have been sent to the city over the past month to “assess” ways Washington might bolster Kurdish forces attempting to protect the area from ISIL extremists.
Since President Obama won the White House six years ago on promises to end the U.S. military presence in Iraq, aides have been quick to insist that no new U.S. troop deployment is being considered in Iraq.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Friday that Mr. Obama remains “determined” to not send ground troops, and that the ongoing mission is narrowly defined and limited in scope.
And some former military officials have said that the mission could succeed from a humanitarian standpoint.
Retired Gen. Charles Wald, deputy commander of U.S. European Command between 2002 and 2006, took part in a similar operation in Iraq 1991, known as Operation Provide Comfort.