The new US willingness to use ground troops in Iraq does not appear to be a coincidence. The White House has been stung by weeks of criticism of its strategy of using air power only against Islamic State.
First it failed to anticipate the Russian intervention in Syria. Then came a further challenge to US influence in the region with the announcement that Russia, Syria, Iran and Iraq have set up a joint intelligence-sharing unit in Baghdad.
Iraqi Shia MPs have been barracking Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi for the past week, demanding he request Russian airstrikes against ISIS after the failure of US airstrikes to curb the militant group.
Now the US appears to be responding. On Tuesday the country’s most senior officer, General Joseph Dunford, flew to Iraqi Kurdistan and then to Baghdad.
US officials say that the American strategy is being ramped up and “rebooted” to mount attacks on multiple fronts. Whether this will involve sending new US troops to Iraq is not yet clear.
Thursday’s raid was an operation that put American lives at risk for the sake of Iraqis — an important message. It was also about both American prestige in the face of the Russian challenge and an acknowledgment that the strategy has not been working.