Obama spoke as radical Sunni fighters continued their rapid advance across Iraq, raising fears of a sectarian civil war.
“Over the last couple of days, we’ve seen significant gains by the ISIL terrorist organization that operates in both Iraq and Syria,” Obama said. “Iraqi security forces have proven unable to defend in a number of cities.”
“Now Iraq needs additional support to break the momentum of these extremist groups,” he said.
But that support won’t come in the form of sending combat troops back to Iraq. Obama said he has asked his national security team to “prepare a range of other options” for the U.S. to consider that he will look at over the next several days.
“Over the past decade, American troops have made extraordinary sacrifices,” he said. “Any actions that we may take to provide assistance to Iraqi security forces have to be joined by a serious and sincere effort by Iraq.”
The chaos “should be a wakeup call to Iraq’s leaders,” he said, and “could pose a threat eventually to American interests as well.”
The president’s remarks came a day after he told reporters “I don’t rule out anything” when it comes to a U.S. response to the violence.
“This is an area we’ve been watching with a lot of concern, not just over the last days but the last several months,” Obama said Thursday. “What we’ve seen indicates Iraq’s going to need more help, from us and from the international community.”
Iraq asked the U.S. for air assistance in tempering the militant uprising, U.S. officials said earlier this week. The Iraq ambassador to the United States repeated that call Friday, saying the Americans had the experience and the will to respond to the “terrorist threat.”
The developments in Iraq have prompted leading Republicans to call for action. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., voiced security concerns, urging U.S. involvement as militants encroached on the capital.
“I have never been more worried about another 9/11 than I am right now,” Graham said.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., echoed that worry, calling this “the gravest threat to our national security since the end of the Cold War.”