WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama said Thursday Iraq will need more help from the United States as it seeks to push back a violent Islamic insurgency that has captured two key cities and is vowing to press toward Baghdad.
Obama did not specify what type of assistance the U.S. would be willing to provide, but said he had not ruled out any options.
"We do have a stake in making sure that these jihadists are not getting a permanent foothold in either Iraq or Syria, for that matter," Obama said during an Oval Office meeting with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
Iraq has been beset by violence since the last American forces withdrew in late 2011. The violence escalated this week with an al-Qaida-inspired group capturing two key Sunni-dominated cities this week and vowing to march on to Baghdad.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other Iraqi leaders have pleaded with the Obama administration for more than a year for additional help to combat the growing insurgency, which has been fueled by the unrelenting civil war in neighboring Syria. Northern Iraq has become a way station for insurgents who routinely travel between the two countries and are seeding the Syrian war's violence in Baghdad and beyond.
A senior U.S. official said the U.S. is considering whether to conduct drone missions for Iraq but that no decision had been made. The official was not authorized to discuss the matter by name and requested anonymity.
The president said he was watching the situation in with concern and his team was working around the clock to identify the most effective assistance. He said that while short-term military solutions were required to tamp down the growing insurgency, Iraq also needed to make longer-term political changes.