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Senior Obama administration officials’ closed-door briefing to senators Tuesday night revealed that the White House did not anticipate and was not prepared for the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS), which has wreaked havoc in Iraq and seized many key cities in recent weeks.
Top State Department and Defense Department officials joined senators Tuesday evening for a briefing on the quickly developing chaos in Iraq and future U.S. plans for a response.
Sources familiar with the brief said that the administration officials repeated talking points issued over the past several days in both open and closed door meetings and had trouble communicating a concrete plan for response.
The brief was conducted by Assistant Secretary of State Anne Patterson, Assistant Secretary of Defense Elissa Slotkin, Vice Admiral Frank Pandolfe, and an official from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, according to a senior Senate insider.
The officials told senators that the White House and intelligence agencies failed to predict ISIL’s overwhelming rise and were “not sure what to do,” according to the source.
Administration officials also could not communicate a concrete plan to move forward and recommended that more “assessments” of the situation be conducted.
“It was obvious that the White House did not anticipate and was not prepared” to respond to the situation in Iraq, according to one source familiar with the briefing.
Senators involved in the briefing expressed concern about the safety of U.S. personnel at the embassy in Baghdad and raised the issue of potential problems with Jordan, where ISIL militants are now in control of the border areas.
The United States has been hesitant to forcefully respond to the insurgent uprising in Iraq and has stated that air strikes are out of the question. U.S. officials have insisted that the Iraqis immediately form a new, more inclusive government in a bid to dampen the violence.
Iran has stepped up its own action in Iraq, supplying the government with arms, sending in top military advisers, and flying surveillance drones in Baghdad, according to the New York Times.
A small team of U.S. troops arrived in Iraq on Tuesday to help coordinate security of Baghdad.
Two special operations teams containing around 40 members have begun a new deployment in Iraq and another 90 troops have been assigned to fortify a joint operations center in Baghdad, the Pentagon announced on Tuesday.
Four additional teams of around 50 people will be deployed in the next few days from U.S. Central Command, according to Pentagon spokesman, Rear Admiral John Kirby.
“These teams will assess the cohesiveness and readiness of Iraqi security forces, higher headquarters in Baghdad, and examine the most effective and efficient way to introduce follow-on advisers,” Kirby told reporters on Tuesday.
The United States is also flying “30 to 35” surveillance missions per day to help collect intelligence about the situation on the ground, according to Kirby.
Lawmakers in the House and Senate have called for drone strikes and a greater number of forces to help get the situation under control.
Secretary of State John Kerry, who was in northern Iraq Tuesday for meetings, indicated that the autonomous Kurdish contingent could play a key role in forming a new Iraqi government.
Meanwhile, congressional investigators have found that ISIL seeks to use seized Iraqi territory as a base from which to launch terror strikes against the United States and its allies.