Foreign Affairs chairman: Obama plan ‘underestimates’ threat in Iraq

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House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) on Thursday panned President Obama’s response to Iraq's security meltdown, saying it “underestimates the seriousness of the threat.”

The U.S. must launch drone strikes, Royce said, against Sunni militant members of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) who have captured key cities and threaten Baghdad.

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“The steps [Obama] announced are needed, but fall short of what is required to stop this al-Qaeda offshoot from gaining more power, which must include drone strikes,” Royce said in a statement after Obama announced measures to help Iraq’s government.

In a statement delivered from the White House, Obama said he is sending 300 military advisers to Iraq to support its security forces and set up joint operations centers to root out ISIS. 

The U.S. is prepared to take military action if necessary, Obama said, but he appeared to move away from authorizing airstrikes for now.

“American forces will not be returning to combat in Iraq, but we will help Iraqis as they take the fight to terrorists,” Obama said.

Royce said Iraq’s security meltdown came after the administration “disengaged” and “willfully ignored well-known threats.”

Earlier this week, Royce said the U.S. “waited too long" to act on intelligence it had about ISIS months ago.

“The Iraqis have been requesting U.S. drone strikes against terrorist camps for nearly a year, and this Administration has repeatedly said ‘no,’ even as they have captured town after town,” Royce said.

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, did not call for drone strikes in his statement reacting to Obama’s announcement. He said he supported Obama’s decision to assist Iraqi Security Forces without sending in U.S. combat troops, adding there’s “no good solution” for Iraq.

Engel questioned whether Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is the right leader to unify his nation.

Obama stopped short of calling for al-Maliki’s resignation, but said "only leaders that can govern with an inclusive agenda are going to be able to truly bring the Iraqi people together and help them through this crisis." 

The New York Times reported Thursday that Obama administration officials are consulting with Iraq’s leaders in an effort to oust al-Maliki.

Obama said he is also sending Secretary of State John Kerry to Europe and the Middle East to coordinate a response with U.S. allies and Iraq’s neighbors.