U.S. Caught ‘Off Guard’ by Collapse of Iraqi Security Forces

At a closed-door gathering of Gulf states in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, in May, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and his Arab counterparts all signaled agreement on one thing for the first time: Islamist forces seizing territory in Syria and Iraq had become a regionwide menace that can’t be ignored.

What they didn’t agree on was what to do about it, U.S. officials said.The fall this week of the Iraqi cities Mosul and Tikrit to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham rebel group shows how the insurgent threat is outpacing the response and posing a challenge to President Barack Obama’s approach of limiting U.S. involvement in foreign conflicts.

The quickly unfolding drama prompted a White House meeting Wednesday of top policy makers and military leaders who were caught off guard by the swift collapse of Iraqi security forces, officials acknowledged.

State Department and Pentagon officials have long warned about ISIS’s desire to create an Islamic state based in the Sunni-dominated parts of Iraq and Syria.

Now, current and former officials say Washington’s options for helping the Iraqi army fight back are limited—both because the threat in Iraq is so entrenched and because the U.S. hasn’t invested in building up moderate allies on the Syrian side of the border. . .

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