OBAMA ANNOUNCES 'NEW PHASE' IN OFFENSIVE AGAINST ISLAMIC STATE
US-backed Kurdish forces in Iraq
NEW DELHI: United States President Barack Obama has announced the deployment of 1500 additional troops to Iraq, saying that the move marks a “new phase” against Islamic State (IS) militants. Although deployed in a non-combat role, the additional troops will advise Iraqi and Kurdish forces whilst a US-led coalition continues conducting airstrikes in Iraq and Syria.
Speaking on CBS’ Face the Nation Broadcast, Obama said “Phase one was getting an Iraqi government that was inclusive and credible - and we now have done that… Rather than just try to halt IS' momentum, we're now in a position to start going on some offense.”
The President added that the airstrikes “have been very effective in degrading IS' capabilities and slowing the advance that they were making.”
A recent airstrike led to rumours that IS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, had been critically injured or killed. Iraq's Defense and Interior ministries both issued statements on Sunday afternoon saying al-Baghdadi had been wounded in western Anbar province and the news was soon broadcast on state-run television, although no further details were provided. US officials have however, expressed skepticism about the claim. Fox News quoted Air Force Col. Pat Ryder, a spokesperson for U.S. Central Command, saying, “We have no information to corroborate press reports that (Islamic State) leader al-Baghdadi has been injured.”
Meanwhile, the Islamic State continues to push further into Anbar province. Recently, the Iraqi government said that at least 322 members of the Al-Bu Nimr tribe -- that had been resisting the IS’ advance into Anbar -- had been killed by the group. In another brutal incident, IS militants rounded up at least 40 Sunni tribal fighters and security force personnel, who had fought against the group in Hit, parading them in the streets before shooting and killing them in a public execution in front of local residents at the city’s central square.
The public execution was the first of its kind in Anbar province, where the militants have been gaining ground steadily. A week ago, the group captured Albu Nimr area in the province, prompting warnings that the entire province -- that borders Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Baghdad province -- could soon fall to the militants.
Reports of these executions and killings targeting Sunni tribesmen who have resisted IS, is likely to further dampen resolve among Sunni arabs to fight the militant group. The Iraqi government has been trying to enlist tribal councils to resist the IS advance, and these incidents -- exacerbated by claims that the Iraqi government has been slow in responding to the tribals’ demands -- will only fuel distrust of the Shia-dominated administration at the centre.
Meanwhile, fighting continues in the Syrian-Turkish border town of Kobani, which has been besieged by IS for over a month. The United States launched more airstrikes over the town this weekend whilst continuing to support local militias battling the IS in Syria.