Obama Says Poor Iraqi Recruiting Limiting US Training in ISIS Fight

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a media conference at the conclusion of the G-7 summit at Schloss Elmau hotel near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, southern Germany, Monday, June 8, 2015. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a media conference at the conclusion of the G-7 summit at Schloss Elmau hotel near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, southern Germany, Monday, June 8, 2015. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

President Obama said Monday that the U.S. had yet to draw up a "complete strategy" for training the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) to fight ISIS because of a lack of Iraqi recruits.

"We don't have yet a complete strategy, because it requires commitments on the part of Iraqis as well about how recruitment takes place, how that training takes place," Obama said at a news conference at the end of the G-7 (Group of Seven) economic summit in Germany.

Obama said he was awaiting a plan from Defense Secretary Ashton Carter to speed up the training. It was unclear whether the plan would call for sending more U.S. trainers to Iraq. "The details are not worked out," Obama said.

Obama did not respond directly when asked about the willingness of the U.S. to send more trainers and advisors to Iraq. In general terms, Obama said members of the international coalition against ISIS were prepared "to do more."

The 3,000 trainers and advisors already there have not been fully utilized because of the lack of recruits reporting for the six-week training program that stresses basic military skills - shooting, moving and communicating, said Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman.

"We want to be able to increase our capacity, but the Iraqis have to be able to supply the recruits," Warren said.

Obama has been a constant target of critics who charge that the U.S. has failed to define an ISIS strategy.

"We want to get more Iraqi security forces trained, fresh, well-equipped, and focused," Obama said. "We're reviewing a range of plans for how we might do that, essentially accelerating the number of Iraqi forces that are properly trained and equipped and have a focused strategy and good leadership."

Obama acknowledged that the training to date "has not been happening as fast as it needs to" and he also acknowledged that ISIS does not appear to have a similar recruiting problem.

The U.S. has "made some progress, but not enough" in stemming the flow of foreign fighters who have been swelling the ranks of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria," Obama said.

Obama spoke after meeting on the sidelines of the economic summit with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

Despite the fall of Ramadi, Obama said that ISIS "is going to be driven out of Iraq, and ultimately, it is going to be defeated. Although it is going to take time, and there will be setbacks and lessons learned."

At the Pentagon, Col. Warren said 8,920 Iraqi recruits had completed the training program as of June 4, and another 2,601 were now in training.

None of the U.S trained troops were in Ramadi when the ISF fled from the ISIS assault, Warren said, and he could not say whether U.S. trained troops were in the ISF contingents now seeking to push ISIS out of the oil refinery city of Baiji, about 140 miles north of Ramadi.

In recent weeks, the ISF has mounted a complex offensive to retake Baiji and the refinery on the northern outskirts, Warren said.

ISF units have now entered the city while other units have moved out to the west to re-open a ground supply route to an embattled ISF unit holding a northwestern section of the refinery, Warren said.

"This fight is not over," Warren said, but "the momentum in both places (the city and the refinery) has shifted toward friendly forces."

Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@military.com

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