The Slatest

Obama Is Escalating U.S. Involvement in the ISIS War. It Won’t Be the Last Time. 

A U.S. Army trainer instructs an Iraqi army recruit at a military base on April 12, 2015, in Taji, Iraq. 

Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

This week marks a year since ISIS stunned the world by taking over the city of Mosul, prompting the Obama administration to escalate America’s involvement in Iraq, the country President Obama had staked his legacy on pulling troops out of. Back in February, U.S. military officials were confidently predicting that Iraqi forces would be ready to launch a campaign to retake Mosul this spring. Today Mosul remains firmly under the control of the Islamic State, and this week the U.S. is once again escalating its troop presence in Iraq.

The new plan is to dispatch 450 additional military trainers to bolster the roughly 3,000 U.S. troops already on the ground. The new troops will establish a base in Anbar province, where ISIS took over the city of Ramadi last month, casting serious doubt on the U.S. military and government’s sunny progress reports. They will work to train and equip Sunni fighters and the Iraqi military to retake ground and prevent further gains by ISIS.

Anbar’s Sunni militias could be forgiven for wondering what took so long: In early June the New York Times reported that only 90 Sunni fighters had been trained so far under a government program to bolster the militias. The Sunni militias, who joined with the U.S. to rout al-Qaida during the last Iraq war, might also be understandably reluctant to fight with the Americans again, given that last time they wound up with Nouri al-Maliki’s Shiite-dominated sectarian government

As for the official Iraqi military, it’s not much of an exaggeration to say that it’s unclear to what extent it exists. As MIT professor and analyst Barry Posen points out, there were supposedly about nine Iraqi military divisions left after the defeat at Mosul. If none of those was sent to defend Ramadi from ISIS, why should we have any confidence they can retake it? In other words, it’s looking as if the mission for the new U.S. troops is less to train and equip Iraqi forces than to construct them. Given that, they probably won’t be the last reinforcements sent into a war this president never wanted to fight.