Obama Authorizes 1,500 More U.S. Troops For ISIS Fight

Mission creep.

Barack Obama

President Obama is apparently set to once again significantly expand the role of American forces on the ground in the first against ISIS in Iraq:

WASHINGTON — President Obama has authorized the deployment of an additional 1,500 American troops to Iraq in the coming months, doubling the number of Americans meant to train and advise Iraqi and Kurdish forces.

The trainers and advisers are to help Iraqis and Kurds as they plan a major offensive expected next spring against Islamic State fighters who have poured into Iraq from Syria.

Pentagon officials said Friday that military advisers would establish training sites across Iraq in a significant expansion of the American military campaign in Iraq and Syria against the Islamic State. A Defense Department official said that a number of military personnel would deploy specifically to Anbar Province, the Sunni stronghold in western Iraq that was the scene of bloody fighting for years after the 2003 American-led invasion. In recent months Sunni militants with the Islamic State have been seizing and holding territory across Anbar.

In addition, White House budget officials said they would ask Congress for $5 billion for military operations in the Middle East against the Islamic State, including $1.6 billion to train and equip Iraqi troops. At its height in 2006 and 2007, the Iraq war was costing the United States more than $60 billion a year.

Administration officials said the expanded effort was intended to help the Iraqis break the Islamic State’s occupation in northern and western Iraq, re-establish the government’s control over the country’s major roads and borders, and retake Mosul, a city of about a million people 250 miles north of Baghdad.

The timing of the announcement — three days after the midterm elections — raised the question of whether the administration, wary of angering a war-weary American public, decided to wait until after the elections to minimize further damage to Democratic candidates. For several weeks now, administration officials have said they expected they would have to send additional American troops to help the Iraqi forces, who initially disintegrated in the face of the rampaging Islamic State.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, acting on weeks-old advice from top generals, formally requested the additional troops this week, according to Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary. Pentagon officials said that Mr. Hagel was responding to a request from the Iraqi government for the troops and that United States Central Command, which oversees American military operations in the Middle East, had assessed the Iraqi units and determined that help was needed.

Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, said that Mr. Obama has authorized the additional personnel to operate at Iraqi bases, even those outside the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, and Erbil, the Kurdish capital. Until now, American troops have been operating at a headquarters with Iraqi and Kurdish forces in those two cities.

Administration officials insisted Friday that the doubling to 3,000 American troops in Iraq was consistent with the president’s policy that the United States is not engaged in combat in Iraq. Mr. Obama, who ran against the Iraq war in his 2008 presidential campaign and pulled all American troops from the country in 2011, has repeatedly ruled out sending ground troops back to Iraq, even as he is deepening American military engagement in both Iraq and Syria.

A senior administration official, who asked for anonymity under ground rules imposed by the White House, rejected suggestions that the doubling of forces amounted to mission creep.

“The mission is not changing at all for our service members,” the official said, adding that the president “made clear that we are not going to be putting U.S. men and women back into combat. We will continue to assure people that this is a different kind of mission.”

Notwithstanding the fact that the Administration is insisting that this is not mission creep, it’s hard to see it any other way, especially when viewed in the context of American involvement in this conflict from the beginning. What started out as a humanitarian mission to allow members of the Yazedi minority in northern Iraq to escape from a siege on Mount Sinjar and protect American diplomats in Kirkuk quickly expanded into a mission to aid Iraqi Kurds and the Iraqi Army in their battles against ISIS forces inside Iraq, and then morphed into attacking ISIS positions inside Syria, as well as the positions of a previously never discussed al Qaeda offshoot group called the Korisan Group. Now, the President tells us, the mission is to “degrade and destroy” ISIS both in Iraq and in Syria, but it still remains unclear how we are going to accomplish that. As a preliminary matter at least, it does not appear that air power is having much of an impact on the group in either country, and while it may have slowed down their advance toward Baghdad and their effort to capture crucial cities in Syria such as Khobani on the Syrian border, Slowing down an advance, however, is a far different matter from halting and reversing it, however, and there doesn’t seem to be much indication of that happening any time soon. In no small part, of course, that last part is because the primary ground forces that we’re supposedly relying on to do that — the Iraqi Army and the “moderate” Syrian rebels — are by no means ready to fulfill the mission we’d purport to assign to them. Indeed, in the case of the Syrian rebels, it’s been clear from the start that their primary mission remains toppling the Assad regime so it’s unclear that they will even use the training we are giving them to do what we want them to do. The Kurdish Peshmerga forces are a better organized force, of course, but they are understandably far more concerned with defending Kurdish areas in Iraq and Syria from ISIS than they are in protecting Iraq in any significant manner. Thus, with the air campaign only having limited success and the likelihood that ISIS will play the waiting game until our purported allies are ready to strike, President Obama obviously feels the need to ramp up America’s involvement in this war of his if only to show that he’s “doing something.”

As I’ve said before, there are real dangers in the strategy that the President is undertaking here, and we’ve seen them unfold in other conflicts that the United States has found itself part of in the past. Allowing mission creep to take place means that you have entered a conflict without any real sense of what your mission is and, more importantly, no conception of what an exit strategy might be. Given the fact that the Administration has characterized the campaign against ISIS as being, legally and factually, inseparable from the “War On Terror” that begin thirteen years ago in the wake of the September 11th attacks, it’s no real surprise that we’re proceeding down this path. After all, the War in Afghanistan itself can be characterized as having been rife with mission creep, and the broader “War On Terror” has morphed from something centered in Afghanistan and Pakistan to targets in Yemen, sub-Saharan Africa, and elsewhere. Now, even though the connection between ISIS and al Qaeda is tenuous as best the Administration is purporting to sue the same Authorization for Use of Military Force that justified those actions to launch military actions in Iraq and Syria that are obviously going to require more than just drone strikes to be successful. And that’s where the problem with mission creep really comes into play. Once you’ve committed to a course of action that leads down that path, it becomes next to impossible, both as a matter of domestic politics and international affairs, to either reassess what you’re doing or to, god forbid, consider the possibility of turning back. To pick just one extreme example, that’s essentially what happened to the United States after 1965 when President Johnson first started committing forces to the conflict in South Vietnam. At some point, it became impossible for him to say no to further escalation, and we all know what happened after that.

Now, I’m not saying that we’re headed for a Vietnam style conflict in Iraq and Syria, at least not in the same way and most certainly not in the same numbers. I am suggesting, however, that by not defining a clear strategy, or even a clear reason for why we should be investing ourselves in fighting ISIS and to preserve the territorial integrity of nations like Iraq and Syria, President Obama has committed the United States to a course of conduct that will likely only suck us further into a conflict that has no good end for anyone involved, and most certainly not a good end for us. Indeed, I am not even certain that we have the option of withdrawing at this point even though that may seem to be the best course of action.

FILED UNDER: Africa, Middle East, Military Affairs, National Security, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Rick DeMent says:

    Don’t worry, I’m sure the hawks in congress will step up and immediately come up with a plan and pass the appropriate legislation to support it.

  2. michael reynolds says:

    Notwithstanding the fact that the Administration is insisting that this is not mission creep, it’s hard to see it any other way,

    Well, that’s your failing. The military is divided up by specialties. There are guys/units who help to target artillery or air missions or guys/units that provide logistical support, and there are guys/units who march out and shoot at people. Both may be in jeopardy, but they are not the same people or the same kind of unit, and they don’t have the same mission.

    In point of fact the war against ISIS is working rather well. I don’t expect either the critics on the Left or Right to admit it, but it’s going pretty much the way Mr. Obama laid it out. We have contained ISIS. We are now degrading ISIS. Eventually – and it may take years – ISIS will be finished as a threat.

    It’s easy to fall back on tropes like “mission creep” but you should apply them with some degree of rigor, not just toss them out there because they fit your pre-baked notions.

  3. stonetools says:

    Yeah, well now that Doug’s team is fully in charge of Congress, it seems he should be calling on Congress to take charge and restrain the President..
    Oh wait, you mean the Republicans actually drove the President to take action here through their constant scaremongering and attacks on the President for being “too weak” in the face of the ISIS threat? Oh, never mind…

  4. @stonetools:

    now that Doug’s team is fully in charge of Congress

    The New York Yankees are in charge of Congress?

    Excellent! Now we can get on to the important work of adding Joe DiMaggio to Mount Rushmore.

  5. President Camacho says:

    Here we go again

  6. michael reynolds says:

    I don’t know how reliable this reporting will turn out to be, but from The Mail in UK:

    American war planes have reportedly launched a strike on a gathering of ISIS leaders, critically wounding their leader.

    Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was hurt in the strikes today, according to local witnesses and government sources.

    Two witnesses confirmed that bombs had fallen on the town of al-Qaim, next to the Syrian border.
    Local government sources described how an aircraft had swooped over a meeting of senior ISIS figures and dropped its payload, killing more than a dozen people.

    Another witness said that eight people had died when a bomb struck a market.
    A local hospital was said to be overwhelmed with the volume of patients from the raid – including al-Baghdadi.

    Local ISIS officials were reportedly roaming the streets with loudspeakers ordering residents to donate blood to help the wounded.

    Striking Baghdadi would be the most significant blow yet in the campaign against ISIS, who have been defiant in the face of sustained air attacks from the U.S. Air Force and allies.

  7. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Rick DeMent: Don’t worry, I’m sure the hawks in congress will step up and immediately come up with a plan and pass the appropriate legislation to support it.

    So, since Obama’s busy writing and rewriting the law from the White House, Congress should step up and act as Commander In Chief?

    Dude, have you even READ the Constitution?

  8. Paul Hooson says:

    ISIS is such a threat that this and much more are required to defeat this serious humanitarian and terrorist threat.

  9. Guarneri says:

    Truman actually sent the first advisors to the Vietnamese conflict…………..but mission creep doesn’t happen.


  10. superdestroyer says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Too many progressives have become caricatures where they breathlessly support whatever President Obama says or does without even bothering to reconcile the Administration’s actions with the past support for specific policies or actions.

    It just goes to show that to many progressives, politics is a fashion statement and has nothing to do with reality.

  11. edmondo says:

    Oh wait, you mean the Republicans actually drove the President to take action…

    And they also “forced” him to keep that Afghan debacle going for 6 years, and they “forced” him to offer a Grand Bargain and they “forced” him to build that NSA Program to unprecedented heights while “forcing” him to not criminally prosecute any Wall Street wrongdoing and they “forced” him to disassemble the LiHeap Program and they “forced” him to implement the Heritage Foundation’s health care plan. Is there any end to the power of these Congressional Republicans?

    It sure is amusing to watch that dastardly GOP “force” Obama to do exactly what he wants to do. The only thing more amusing is watching you defend each and every action Obama takes knowing full well if it was a Republican doing it, you’d be totally against all of it.

  12. lounsbury says:

    @superdestroyer: Unintended irony I suppose. If you restate that to “to many party-political partisans’ you have a point.

    I frankly see no difference in the behaviour of Right or Left partisans in USA, and the ideologue orientation.

  13. Rick DeMent says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    So, since Obama’s busy writing and rewriting the law from the White House, Congress should step up and act as Commander In Chief?

    Dude, have you even READ the Constitution?

    Sure but since the Republicans keep vacillating between Obama the ruthless dictator and Obama the weak, feckless do nothing, I just thought that now that congress is in the hands of the people who know everything they might you know bail him and save our country.

  14. michael reynolds says:


    I’m sorry, are you trying to craft a new message now that your “The GOP is dead, we are a one party nation” trope is in ruins? You repeated that roughly a billion times, SD, over and over and over again ad nauseam. You figure what, we all forgot? Now, like Doug and Joyner and Dave Schuler who all suddenly forgot Obamacare exists once Obamacare started working, you’re just going to la di da along pretending that you haven’t spent the last couple of years obsessively repeating the same b.s. again and again and again and again?

  15. charles austin says:


  16. Paul Hooson says:

    Sadly, there is no link to upload pictures here, otherwise I would upload some graphic pictures of the type of humanitarian disaster these ISIS monsters are responsible for. Some are young children their eyes filled with fear before their heads are cut of with sharp knives, and then their heads are mounted on gates or pikes to instill fear in others. Another is an attractive young women, stripped nude, her body held down on a table, while her throat is cut, her blood draining in a bucket. There is no way to know if she was raped or sexually assaulted before she was murdered, but knowing these savages, that’s probably a pretty reasonable guess. – The U.S. and it’s allies need to throw their full weight against this enemy.

  17. dazedandconfused says:

    Looks like the same mission to me, help the Iraqi military get back on it’s feet…again. Just more people to do it a little faster and safer is all. I’m not sure if the term “mission creep” means an expanding of the definition of the mission or a larger force to do the same mission quicker though.

  18. bill says:

    so if they issue these “trainers/advisers” regular work shoes can they say there’s no “boots on the ground”?

  19. michael reynolds says:


    Doug doesn’t get hung up on little details like that. Mission creep would clearly mean an expansion of the mission. Since the clearly-stated mission is to contain and degrade ISIS, and explicitly to do it with local forces which Mr. Obama clearly said we’d be helping to train, no it’s not mission creep.

    @Paul Hooson:

    Obviously they’re monsters and they need killin’, but I think Mr. Obama has this about right. The only way to really have capable local forces is to put the responsibility on them. The Kurds are carrying their load and doing it amazingly well. It’s time now for the Iraqis to show some of that steel, and they have begun taking back bits of territory here and there.

    If we go riding in guns blazing we’re giving a free pass to people who need to learn to handle their own sh!t. With air power, money, training and intel, we leave the Iraqis to decide whether or not they are prepared to do more with an army than just extort and abuse their own people. If they’re going to be a country — and we need them to be some kind of country, at least — they need to carry the load.

    In the War of Independence we had French trainers and money and Navy (the air power of its day), but we also had Washington and Greene and Knox and others who gave us the foundation of a real army. I seriously doubt Iraq will ever be much of a country, but if they can’t fight hard enough to beat these clowns then we have to start asking ourselves what the world looks like with ISIS in Saudi Arabia and potentially Jordan. Because if we don’t have some locals with some capabilities we will sooner or later leave and things will be right back where they are.

    One other point: as much as we laugh at the pathetic Iraqi army, the Union army ran like rabbits at Bull Run/Manassas, the American army broke at Kasserine Pass, the British army gave up Singapore without a whimper, and the Red Army walked backward for a thousand miles when the Wehrmacht first showed up. Who knows, maybe with better political leadership the Iraqi army may grow some balls.

  20. dazedandconfused says:

    @michael reynolds:

    A classic example of mission creep is, to me, the US space program. The President orders NASA to put a man in orbit, and before the decade is out, The Eagle crept to the moon and pooped the Stars and Stripes on it.

  21. munchbox says:

    you could mention obama’s NASA mission creep….muslim outreach…”The last thing we need to be doing now is spending precious space dollars … on outreach to any religion,” he said. “We need to spend money on human space exploration.” obama what a joke he is the worst.