The doubling of troops in Iraq signals a “new phase” in the fight against the Islamic State, President Barack Obama said Sunday, even as he pledged that no U.S. troops will serve in combat roles.
Speaking on CBS’s Face the Nation, Obama said airstrikes against the Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria had been “very effective” in slowing their advance.
“We're now in a position to start going on some offense,” Obama said. “Now what we need is ground troops, Iraqi ground troops, that can start pushing them back.”
Obama said “what hasn't changed is our troops are not going to be engaged in combat.” But he did not rule out that more troops will be sent in, saying “as commander in chief I'm never going to say never.”
Obama’s decision Friday to expand the conflict in Iraq and Syria by doubling the number of U.S. troops has fueled concern that the United States could creep into a ground war just three years after withdrawing forces from Iraq. But administration officials said the U.S. presence will be solely to train, equip and advise Iraqi security forces to battle the militants.
Obama in the interview also took some blame for Democratic losses in Tuesday’s election, saying “whenever, as the head of the party, it doesn't do well, I've got to take responsibility for it.”
But Obama mostly laid the blame on discontent with gridlock in Washington, saying “the message that I took from this election, and we've seen this in a number of elections, successive elections, is people want to see this city work. And they feel as if it's not working."
He also insisted that he will go ahead with plans to sign an executive order giving temporary legal status to some of the estimated 11 million undocumented in the U.S., despite fierce Republican opposition.
Their time hasn't run out," he said of Republicans, noting that he’d be happy to sign an immigration bill to supersede his executive order.
Though some presidents have cleaned house following losing midterm elections, Obama suggested there won’t be a massive overhaul.
"We will be bringing in new folks here because people get tired,” he said. “You know, it's a hard job. And what I've told everybody is...I want you to have as much enthusiasm and energy on the last day of this administration as you do right now or you did when you first started. Otherwise you shouldn't be here."