Obama faces questions on prospect of expanded war

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Obama faces questions on prospect of expanded war
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 16: U.S. President Barack Obama returns to the White House on Marine One on November 16, 2014 in Washington, DC. Obama is returning from Brisbane, Australia where he attended the G20 Leader's Summit. (Photo by Dennis Brack-Pool/Getty Images)
"We are heartbroken to learn that our son has lost his life as a result of his love for the Syrian people." #Kassig http://t.co/5TbmxSs9Fk
Ed & Paula Kassig: "We are incredibly proud of our son for living his life according to his humanitarian calling." http://t.co/Iqm0lCBOY8
MISRATA, LIBYA - JUNE 02: In this handout image made available by the photographer American journalist Steven Sotloff (Center with black helmet) talks to Libyan rebels on the Al Dafniya front line, 25 km west of Misrata on June 02, 2011 in Misrata, Libya. Sotloff was kidnapped in August 2013 near Aleppo, Syria and was recently shown on a jihadist video in which fellow US journalist James Foley was executed. In the video the militant form the Islamic State (IS) threatens to kill Sotloff next if the US continues its aerial campaign against the insurgency. (Photo by Etienne de Malglaive via Getty Images)
Daily News front page Agusut 20, 2014, SAVAGES - ISIS monster behead U.S. journalist, taunt Obama over air strikes in Iraq - James Foley. (Photo By: /NY Daily News via Getty Images)
British hostage James Cantlie shown in "Lend Me Your Ears: Episode 2." (Clarion Project)
Cantlie rails against Obama's "simplistic" speeches and "under-construction" army. (Clarion Project)
ISIS also went to great efforts to cite American media both quoting the president and showing criticism of his strategies, in this case using a CNN article. (Clarion Project)
US President Barack Obama speaks during a primetime address to the nation from the Cross Hall of the White House in Washington, DC, September 10, 2014. AFP PHOTO / POOL / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a televised address at the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2014. Obama pledged a relentless campaign to destroy Islamic State extremists in Iraq and Syria, with Middle Eastern allies such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan playing crucial supporting roles. Photographer: Saul Loeb/Pool via Bloomberg
U.S. President Barack Obama leaves after speaking during a televised address at the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2014. Obama pledged a relentless campaign to destroy Islamic State extremists in Iraq and Syria, with Middle Eastern allies such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan playing crucial supporting roles. Photographer: Saul Loeb/Pool via Bloomberg
NEWPORT, WALES - SEPTEMBER 04: US President Barack Obama (L) meets with British Prime Minister David Cameron at the NATO Summit on September 4, 2014 in Newport, Wales. Leaders and senior ministers from around 60 countries are meeting at what has been billed as the most important Nato summit since the end of the cold war with the situation in Ukraine and the threat of ISIS likely to be top of the agenda. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid - WPA Pool /Getty Images)
NEWPORT, WALES - SEPTEMBER 04: (L-R) British Prime Minister David Cameron, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and US President Barack Obama talk as they arrive at the NATO Summit on September 4, 2014 in Newport, Wales. Leaders and senior ministers from around 60 countries are gathering for the two day meeting where Ukraine and the ISIS hostages are likely to be discussed. (Photo by Chris Ratcliffe - Pool/Getty Images)
NEWPORT, WALES - SEPTEMBER 04: British Prime Minister David Cameron gestures to US President Barack Obama as they arrive at the NATO Summit on September 4, 2014 in Newport, Wales. Leaders and senior ministers from around 60 countries are gathering for the two day meeting where Ukraine and the ISIS hostages are likely to be discussed. (Photo by Chris Ratcliffe - Pool/Getty Images)
Druze men stand in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights as they look at smoke rising in the distance caused by fighting between forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad and rebels over the control of the Quneitra border crossing, on August 27, 2014. Syrian rebels, including Al-Qaeda's affiliate Al-Nusra Front, seized control of the Syrian crossing with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights today, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Members of United Nations Disengagement Observer Force Zone (UNDOF) use binoculars to watch smoke rising in the distance caused by fighting between forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad and rebels over the control of the Quneitra border crossing, on August 27, 2014. Syrian rebels, including Al-Qaeda's affiliate Al-Nusra Front, seized control of the Syrian crossing with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights today, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
A rebel fightercarries homemade mortar rounds on September 3, 2013 in the northern Syrian city of Raqqa. UN leader Ban Ki-moon said on September 3, 2013 that a military strike on Syria over the use of chemical weapons could worsen the country's conflict. AFP PHOTO / MEZAR MATAR (Photo credit should read MEZAR MATAR/AFP/Getty Images)
Displaced Iraqis from the Yazidi community cross the Iraqi-Syrian border along the Fishkhabur bridge over Tigris River at the Fishkhabur crossing, in northern Iraq, on August 11, 2014. At least 20,000 civilians, many of whom are from the Yazidi community, who had been besieged by jihadists on a mountain in northern Iraq have safely escaped to Syria and been escorted by Kurdish forces back into Iraq, officials said. The breakthrough coincided with US air raids on Islamic State fighters in the Sinjar area of northwestern Iraq on August 9, and Kurdish forces from Iraq, Syria and Turkey working together to break the siege of Mount Sinjar and rescue the displaced. AFP PHOTO/AHMAD AL-RUBAYE (Photo credit should read AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images)
Peshmerga forces hand out water bottles and show the way to displaced Iraqi families from the Yazidi community as they cross the Iraqi-Syrian border at the Fishkhabur crossing, in northern Iraq, on August 11, 2014. At least 20,000 civilians, most of whom are from the Yazidi community, who had been besieged by jihadists on a mountain in northern Iraq have safely escaped to Syria and been escorted by Kurdish forces back into Iraq, officials said. The breakthrough coincided with US air raids on Islamic State fighters in the Sinjar area of northwestern Iraq on August 9, and Kurdish forces from Iraq, Syria and Turkey working together to break the siege of Mount Sinjar and rescue the displaced. AFP PHOTO/AHMAD AL-RUBAYE (Photo credit should read AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images)
Kurdish Peshmerga fighters hold a position on the front line in the Gwer district, 40 kilometres south of Arbil, the capital of the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq, on September 18, 2014. France said that it will follow the United States in launching air strikes against the Islamic State group in Iraq, as the jihadists posted their latest video of a Western hostage. AFP PHOTO / SAFIN HAMED (Photo credit should read SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images)
Kurdish Peshmerga fighters hold a position on the front line in the Gwer district, 40 kilometres south of Arbil, the capital of the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq, on September 18, 2014. France said that it will follow the United States in launching air strikes against the Islamic State group in Iraq, as the jihadists posted their latest video of a Western hostage. AFP PHOTO / SAFIN HAMED (Photo credit should read SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images)
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By JULIE PACE

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama's military campaign against Islamic State group extremists has already crept beyond the narrow parameters he first outlined three months ago.

But military experts both inside and outside of the administration argue that even more may be needed for the mission to succeed, including embedding U.S. ground troops with Iraqi security forces who are on the front line of the fight against the violent militants. Taking that step could put Obama dangerously close to violating his pledges to keep Americans out of combat in Iraq.

For Obama, re-engaging in combat in Iraq would not only mark a reversal of his promises with regard to the current mission, but also undercut one of the broader causes of his presidency, which has been to end lengthy American wars and avoid new ones. But if his military commanders ask for ground troops and he rejects the request, he could be accused of putting his legacy ahead of the mission's success.

Already Obama has shown a willingness to expand the size and scope of the fight against the Islamic State extremist group. After first announcing a limited airstrike campaign, the U.S. is now going after militant targets across Iraq and is expected to extend the attacks into Syria. About 1,600 U.S. troops have also been deployed to Iraq to train local security forces and help safeguard U.S. personnel in the country. And the Pentagon will soon start training and equipping Syrian rebels to fight the militants.

The president has insisted that Iraqi security forces, the Kurdish Peshmerga and the Syrian opposition fighters will be the ones engaged in a ground battle with the Islamic State group. But some of Obama's current and former military advisers have raised the prospect that unless American troops are also engaged in that effort, it will be difficult to degrade and defeat the militants that have moved freely across the blurred border between Iraq and Syria.

"They're not going to be able to be successful against ISIS strictly from the air, or strictly depending on the Iraqi forces or the Peshmerga," said Robert Gates, Obama's former defense secretary, using one of the acronyms for the Islamic State group. "So there will be boots on the ground if there's to be any hope of success in the strategy."

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress he would indeed recommend that step if Obama's strategy fails. Dempsey also said that about half of the Iraqi army is incapable of partnering effectively with the U.S. to roll back the Islamic State group, suggesting that the likelihood more Americans would be needed on the ground is high.

The president responded swiftly to Dempsey's comments by emphasizing his pledge to keep Americans out of combat missions.

"The American forces that have been deployed to Iraq do not and will not have a combat mission," Obama told troops at U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Florida. "As your commander in chief, I will not commit you and the rest of our armed forces to fighting another ground war in Iraq."

But White House officials have left open the possibility that Obama could accept a recommendation to put ground troops in forward operating positions alongside Iraqi and Kurdish Peshmerga forces. While officials say those troops would not be sent with a specific combat mission, they would be armed, as are the 1,600 military personnel that have been deployed to Iraq this summer. And if they come under attack, the forces have the authority to fight back.

Richard Fontaine, president of the Center for New American Security, said that would leave Obama with "something of a rhetorical quandary."

"From a realistic and even legal standpoint, what's going to be happening in Iraq is going to look a lot like combat," said Fontaine, a former State Department official who also advised Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., on foreign policy.

While Obama has broad public support for carrying out airstrikes against the Islamic State group, it's unclear whether a war-weary public would also approve of an expanded ground mission. A recent CNN/ORC poll found that while 76 percent of Americans back strikes in Iraq and 75 percent back strikes in Syria, just 38 percent favor sending U.S. ground troops to those countries.

Should Obama have to take that step, the White House's goal would be to ensure that the ground forces were not solely American. Administration officials have been pressing other countries, particularly Iraq and Syria's Arab neighbors, to commit their own ground troops to help bolster local security forces.

While administration officials say they've received positive feedback from Arab nations, there have yet to be any specific commitments to send ground troops or take other direct military action. Obama will make direct appeals for support when he arrives in New York Tuesday for meetings with foreign leaders at the annual United Nations General Assembly gathering.

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