While the United States vowed support to Iraqi leaders on Wednesday, as they combat a militant offensive that has seized a large swathe of northern and north-central Iraq, a Western official said Washington is mulling the use of drone strikes to help the beleaguered country.
The request for air strikes has been turned down in the past, but Washington is now weighing several possibilities for more military assistance to Baghdad, including drone strikes, a Western official told Agence France-Presse (AFP) on condition of anonymity.
Resorting to such aircraft - which remain highly controversial in Afghanistan and Pakistan - would mark a dramatic shift in the U.S. engagement in Iraq, after the last American troops pulled out in late 2011.
But State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki stressed there were no current plans to send U.S. troops back to Iraq, where around 4,500 Americans died in the eight-year conflict.
She also denied the offensive, in which the militants seized northern Mosul and then Tikrit, had caught Washington by surprise or marked a failure of U.S. policy in the country it invaded in 2003.
On Wednesday, The New York Times reported that Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki secretly asked the Obama administration to consider airstrikes against militant staging areas as the threat from Sunni insurgents mounted last month.
But an Iraqi official told Reuters that Iraq wanted U.S. air strikes but believed the Obama administration was not interested in getting involved.
“While the national security team always looks at a range of options, the current focus of our discussions with the government of Iraq and our policy considerations is to build the capacity of the Iraqis to successfully confront and deal with the threat posed by ISIS,” White House National Security Council Spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said in an emailed comment to Reuters.
The Obama administration official who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity declined to provide details on what the United States might do to help Iraq, saying only that it was “considering a range of requests.”
The Wall Street Journal, quoting senior U.S. officials, first reported that Iraq had signaled it would let the United States strike al-Qaeda militant targets in Iraq with manned aircraft or drones.
An Obama administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity said Iraq had previously made clear its interest in drone strikes or bombing by manned U.S. aircraft to help it beat back the militant onslaught.
Source: AFP; Reuters