A week after President Barack Obama authorized airstrikes targeting Islamic militants in northern Iraq, the United States announced it was dispatching over 100 addition military advisers to the area in a sign of escalating operations.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said Monday that Obama authorized 130 new military "assessors," who arrived in the Kurdish capital of Erbil Monday. The New York Times reports that those additional forces bring the number of military personnel in the country to 1,000.
Hagel's announcement comes as thousands of people including many members of the Yazidi religious minority have fled Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants and are trapped on Mount Sinjar, where they face what United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described as an “especially harrowing" crisis. Hagel said that the "assessors" would "take a closer look and give a more in-depth assessment of where we can continue to help the Iraqis with what they're doing and the threats that they are now dealing with."
Though Hagel said that "this is not a combat boots-on-the-ground operation. We're not going to have that kind of operation," Firedoglake's DSWright writes that these incremental expansions of forces beg an important question. He writes that "sooner or later, these little contingents are going to add up to numbers that are hard to hide. What exactly is the threshold for 'boots on the ground' to be reached?"
Phyllis Bennis, foreign policy expert and fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, told Democracy Now! Friday that increased military involvment "is going to put the U.S. in a situation where it’s widely going to be blamed for the continuing rise of sectarianism," which she said "was put in place by the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003." She continued:
And in the region more broadly, it’s going to be pointed out what hypocrisy it is, where the United States is arming Israel to kill Palestinians in Gaza. The language that President Obama used, that there are innocent people facing violations on a massive scale, that describes the situation of Palestinian civilians in Gaza. And yet, rather than providing humanitarian aid, demanding that Israel open the gates of Gaza, that it open the border crossings, the United States instead is sending more weapons and more money to buy more weapons and more ammunition for those Israeli attacks. So, the question of how the U.S. is going to be blamed for this is even wider because of the simultaneous crisis underway in Gaza.
As the Associated Press reports, the new military operations in Iraq have been met with "broad bipartisan support."