President Barack Obama spoke live at the White House this morning about the current crisis in Iraq, stressing the need for a stable, cooperative Iraqi government to push back ISIS's advances in the country.
"The most important timetable I'm focused on is the Iraqi government getting formed and mobilized," Obama said. "We can conduct airstrikes, but ultimately there's not going to be an American military solution to this problem. There's going to have to be an Iraqi solution that America and other countries support."
Obama warned that American operations in the region could play out over the course of months, not weeks.
"This is going to be a long-term project," he said. "The Iraqi security forces, in order to mount an offensive and be able to operate within the affected populations, are going to have to revamp, get resupplied, have a clear strategy. That's all going to be dependent on a government the Iraqi people — and military — have confidence in."
He bristled briefly when a question was raised about whether ISIS could have gained such a foothold if U.S. troops were still on the ground.
"What I just find interesting is this issue keeps on coming up as if this was my decision," he said. "Under the previous administration, we had turned over the country to a sovereign, democratically elected Iraqi government. In order for us to maintain troops in Iraq, we needed the invitation of the Iraqi government, and assurances that our personnel would be immune from prosecution, if for example they were protecting themselves and ended up in a firefight with Iraqis. The Iraqi government, based on its political considerations, in part because Iraqis were tired of a U.S. occupation, declined to provide us those assurances. So when you hear people say, 'Do you regret not leaving more troops?', that presupposes that I would have overwritten this sovereign government. That entire analysis is bogus, and wrong."
Obama maintained that the intervention will focus not on using U.S. combat troops but continuing to deploy airstrikes when needed, and he said that on the humanitarian aid front, he has received support both from British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande. Along with other international bodies, the United States is trying to find ways to safely transport displaced Iraqis from violent, cut-off areas of the country to stable, safe interim locations. Thousands of members of the Yazidi religious minority are trapped on a northern mountainside in Iraq, having fled the latest advance by ISIS.