The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday endorsed President Obama’s decision to send additional military advisers to Iraq, but cautioned against airstrikes for the time being.
The president’s decision to add 300 more advisers to the ones already in the country “is a reasonable approach,” Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) told reporters after a two-hour classified briefing on the security situation in Iraq.
Airstrikes should not be carried out “unless out top military leaders felt we can do something effective” like separating civilian targets from military ones, he said, adding “we do not know that yet.”
Iraq’s neighbors should also support the decision before any action is taken, according to Levin.
He said the administration told his committee that the advisers would examine prospects for carrying out airstrikes.
“I think it’s keeping that option open for the president,” Levin told reporters. But for right now “extreme caution is the word of the day.”
He said that panel members had been assured the advisers would receive immunity from prosecution by Iraqi authorities while they are deployed in Iraq, though the specifics have not been made available yet.
Obama announced the decision to send advisers to Iraq on Thursday. The move is aimed at bolstering Iraqi forces that have been overrun by fighters with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
In his remarks, Obama noted that an impasse over legal protection for U.S. troops was one of the key reasons no residual U.S. force was left in Iraq.
“We had a core requirement which we require in any situation where we have U.S. troops overseas, and that is, is that they're provided immunity since they're being invited by the sovereign government there ... that they're not somehow hauled before a foreign court,” Obama said.
“The Iraqi government and Prime Minister Maliki declined to provide us that immunity,” he said.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who attended back-to-back classified briefings as a member of the Armed Services and Foreign Relations panels, said the administration has a “good intelligence handle” on the situation.
He said administration briefers had been “candid” about the “areas where the intelligence picture is murky” but that in most areas of the country the administration had good insight.