President Obama on Monday claimed another success in the U.S. air campaign in Iraq, but offered no clear end to the U.S. involvement in the war against Sunni Muslim militants.
Aided by U.S. warplanes and drones, Kurdish Iraqi forces have regained control of the Mosul dam, Obama told reporters Monday, confirming earlier claims by Iraqi officials. The seizure of the strategic facility ended a three-day battle with Islamic State militants who overran the dam this month.
The battle for the dam represented a new phase in the U.S. air campaign in Iraq. Obama initially launched airstrikes 10 days ago with the mission of saving displaced Yazidis trapped on Mt. Sinjar and protecting U.S. personnel in the Kurdish capital of Irbil.
The president argued he was not broadening the mission. The strikes at the dam, 90 miles west of Irbil, were necessary to protect U.S. diplomats, he said.
"If that dam was breached, it could have proven catastrophic, with floods that would've threatened the lives of thousands of civilians and endangered our embassy compound in Baghdad," Obama said.
Obama said the U.S. would "not reintroduce thousands of troops" into the country, adjusting slightly his earlier promise not to put any U.S. combat troops back in Iraq.
"We are not the Iraqi military," Obama said. "We're not even the Iraqi air force."
Still, Obama offered no timetable for ending the mission. He called on Iraq's new leaders to accelerate reforms that could build confidence in the new government and encourage broader suppport from the international community.
"They've got to get this done," Obama said. "Because the wolf's at the door."
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