Obama on Iraq security: 'We can't do it for them'
WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama said Friday he is weighing a range of options for halting a violent Islamic insurgency in Iraq, but he warned that American military action alone cannot stabilize the country.
"The United States will do our part, but ultimately it's up to the Iraqis as a sovereign nation to solve their problems," Obama said from the South Lawn of the White House. He then boarded his Marine helicopter, beginning a four-day trip to North Dakota and California.
The president did not specify what options he was considering but said he would not send American troops back into combat in Iraq. The last U.S. troops withdrew in 2011 after more than eight years of war.
Obama argued that the insurgency is not only a danger to the Iraqi people but also to American interests in a volatile region.
Administration officials said Obama is considering airstrikes using drones or manned aircraft. Other short-term options include an increase in surveillance and intelligence gathering, including satellite coverage and other monitoring efforts. The U.S. also is likely to increase various forms of aid to Iraq, including money, military training and both lethal and non-lethal equipment.
Obama suggested it could take several days before the administration finalizes its response to the situation on the ground.
"We want to make sure we have gathered all the intelligence that is necessary so that if in fact I do direct and order any actions there that they are targeted, they're precise and they're going to have an effect," Obama said before leaving for a four-day trip to North Dakota and California.
Officials said the president had no plans to cut his trip short.
The al-Qaida-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has quickly overrun Iraq's second-largest city of Mosul, Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit and smaller communities, as well as military and police bases - often meeting little resistance from state security forces.
The fast-moving rebellion, which also draws support from former Saddam-era figures and other disaffected Sunnis, has emerged as the biggest threat to Iraq's stability since the U.S. withdrawal. It has pushed the nation closer to a precipice that could partition it into Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish zones.
Obama argued that the insurgency is not only a danger to the Iraqi people, but also to American interests in a volatile region. He also cited America's long investment in Iraq as a rationale for stepping in to help the country from crumbling.
Secretary of State John Kerry, traveling in London Friday, urged Iraq's neighbors to also understand the gravity of the situation.
"Everybody in the region, every country that understands the importance of stability in the Middle East, needs to be concerned about what is happening with ISIL in Iraq today," Kerry said.
The Pentagon has been pulling together a broad range of military options that could be taken in Iraq, and is having discussions with the White House about the best way forward.
One of the immediate moves could be to position small teams of military troops and aircraft close by in case they are needed to evacuate U.S. personnel or to provide security if required.
More aggressive options include airstrikes and other counter-terrorism operations against the insurgency, in conjunction with or with the approval of the Iraqi government. The U.S. routinely has an array of ships in the region. On Friday, the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush and an accompanying Navy cruiser were in the northern Arabian Sea, while two Navy destroyers from the Bush strike group had already moved into the Persian Gulf.
The ships carry Tomahawk missiles, which could reach Iraq, and the Bush is carrying fighter jets that could also easily get to Iraq.