For an “emergency” war hastily announced late Thursday night, the US had a remarkably large military presence in Iraq by Friday morning. 108 warplanes, 8 ships, including the USS George H. W. Bush aircraft carrier, and Predator drones are all involved in this new air war.
It was only a matter of a few hours between President Obama saying he had authorized airstrikes to protect US troops in Irbil and the Pentagon announcing they were attacking ISIS artillery that had putatively fired “near” those troops.
Which was a big reason for putting the troops in Irbil and Baghdad in the first place. The tiny “advisory” forces were chiefly to wait there, as sitting ducks, while the massive naval and air force, positioned off the Iraqi coast for weeks, waited for an opportunity to “save” them by joining the war.
That off-the-coast force included some 2,000 US Marines, supposedly there in case they had to evacuate the embassy in Baghdad or secure the airport. Now, with the air war already underway, they are instead waiting for an escalation to ground operations.
They may not have to wait long. Sustaining the huge air war is going to require between 10,000 and 15,000 troops, just for support, and troops beside that to protect the support force. The administration may be pushing the notion they’re playing this by ear and reacting to situations on the ground, but the war was laid out long ago.