“Our military commanders have all laid out scenarios where we need more troop... if we don’t put boots on the ground, we can’t form the coalition.”Obama has insisted that a ground war with US boots on the ground is not even being considered.
In part, the Obama position simply ignores the reality that the US already has "boots on the ground" in Iraq, about 1,600 of them. The official position is that these troops are simply advisers but there are reports that they have actually entered battle with the Kurds even though officially they are not on a combat mission. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told Congress that the US has not officially reengaged in the war in Iraq at least on the ground:
“Instead, these advisers are supporting Iraqi and Kurdish forces in supporting the government’s plan to stand up Iraqi national guard units,”
Both Robert Gates, Obama's former Defense Secretary and former president George W Bush, doubted that Obama could achieve his goal of defeating IS without US ground troops. Gates told CBS:
"They're not gonna be able to be successful against ISIS strictly from the air, or strictly depending on the Iraqi forces, or the Peshmerga, or the Sunni tribes acting on their own. So there will be boots on the ground if there's to be any hope of success in the strategy.Gates thought that it was a mistake for Obama to continue insisting that there would be no boots on the ground as he was trapping himself into a position he would later need to abandon.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also indicated he would recommend U.S. ground troops if he thought this was required and told reporters:
'I stand by the statement,' he said when asked about testimony before a Senate committee last week in which he first made the assertion. ‘I will recommend… what it takes to destroy ISIS.'Dempsey insisted there is no 'air power alone solution' and it may take the use of boots on the ground to defeat the Islamic State. Obama agrees but wants to use proxy forces as boots on the ground rather than the politically risky use of US forces.
Top officials in Anbar are also asking that the US send troops into the province. However, these officials are only still top officials there because Iraq was unable to hold elections in Anbar because of security issues. The Iraq government itself does not want US troops on the ground. A cleric associated with the Al Sadr bloc has even threatened to attack any US troops. Many Iraqi Sunnis in areas occupied by the Islamic State prefer them to the Shia-dominated central government. They will likely help defend the Islamic State against the US and central government forces.
Obama could very well be drawn into an open-ended quagmire in Iraq. What started out with a few advisers has even now reached 1,600 and their role appears to be gradually becoming more extensive with engagement in the front lines on occasion. I expect special forces are already engaged in secret unreported missions. It would hardly be a giant step to send a thousand or so more actual boots on the ground with Obama deciding that he should follow the recommendations of his own key military figures.