U.S. airstrikes in Iraq will take more time to complete to protect a Kurdish ethnic minority population stranded on a mountain in Iraq, President Obama said Saturday morning in a statement from the White House.
"We feel confident we can prevent [the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria] from going up the mountain and slaughtering people who are there," Obama said in a statement on the White House South Lawn before leaving on vacation.
He said U.S. military forces are positioned to strike ISIS forces at the base of the mountain. The question now, he said, is how to assure the people trapped in the mountains safe passage down, as well as a safe relocation.
While Obama continues to describe the airstrikes as limited and targeted, he said there is no “particular timetable” for how long the U.S. military action in Iraq will continue, although he stressed that “we cannot do it for them” and a long-term solution would require a new more inclusive Iraqi government.
"I don't think we're going to solve this problem in weeks ... I think this is gonna take some time,” he said.
One day after U.S. fighter jets completed at least two airstrikes against ISIS in Northern Iraq, Obama once again promised not to re-commit U.S. ground troops to Iraq saying there is no “U.S. military solution” to the crisis there and implied that a broader American intervention would depend on Iraq’s ability to set up a more inclusive government.
“The most important timetable that I’m focused on is the Iraqi government getting formed and finalized,” he said.
“Until we do that, it’s going to be hard to get the unity of effort that allows us to not just play defense, but also engage in some offense.”
Still, he said the defensive airstrikes would continue against these “barbaric terrorists” if they continue to threaten U.S. facilities or personnel.
“If these terrorists threaten our facilities or our personnel, we will take action to protect our people,” he said. “We will continue to provide military assistance and advice to the Iraqi government and Kurdish forces as they battle these terrorists, so that the terrorists cannot establish a permanent safe haven.”
“We’re not moving our embassy [in Iraq] any time soon. We’re not moving our consulate any time soon,” he added.
Obama forcefully shot down any suggestion that he should have kept troops in Iraq to avoid leaving the country vulnerable to the civil war and the ISIS siege.
The Bush administration had set up an agreement with the Iraqi government that gave them the ability to determine whether to allow U.S. troops to remain there and give them immunity from prosecution, he recalled.
But Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki refused to agree to an immunity deal so the U.S. was forced to remove all troops from the country.
“So that entire analysis is bogus and is wrong,” he said. “But it gets frequently peddled around here by folks who often times are trying to defend previous policies…”
The Iraq experience, he said, should provide a lesson to Afghan leaders to either form an inclusive government or risk the country descending into chaos and becoming a safe haven for terrorists again.
“If you want this thing to work” in Afghanistan, he said. “They’ve got to accommodate each other, otherwise you start tipping back into old patterns of violence and it doesn’t matter how many U.S. troops are there if that happens. It becomes a mess.”
At the beginning of his remarks, Obama said the airstrikes so far have successfully destroyed ISIS arms and equipment targets near Irbil to protect American diplomats. He also praised the U.S. military for leading two air drops of relief supplies to those trapped on Mount Sinja.
Obama said he spoke with British Prime Minister Cameron and French President Hollande and thanked them for their strong support for the operations and for agreeing to “join us’ in providing humanitarian assistance to the men, women and children trapped on a mountain top.