© 2023 KUNR
An illustrated mountainscape with trees and a broadcast tower.
Serving Northern Nevada and the Eastern Sierra
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

White House Says Fall Of Ramadi, Iraq, Is A 'Setback'


The Obama administration is downplaying the fall of Ramadi, saying there will be ups and downs, and this is just one of those low points in the fight against ISIS. Officials are also making it clear that the U.S. will not be drawn in further. The U.S. is providing air support, but not combat forces on the ground. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Secretary of State John Kerry says the battle against ISIS or Daesh, its Arabic acronym, will be a long one with many setbacks. He says the Iraqi security forces weren't ready to take on the fight everywhere just yet.


JOHN KERRY: I underscore yet. There are targets of opportunity, like Ramadi or somewhere else, where Daesh has the ability to inflict great damage.

KELEMEN: But he told reporters traveling with him in South Korea that he's confident about the long-term.


KERRY: It is possible to have the kind of attack we've seen in Ramadi, but I am absolutely confident in the days ahead that will be reversed. Large numbers of Daesh were killed in the last few days and will be in the next days because that seems to be the only thing they understand.

KELEMEN: And he points out that in neighboring Syria, U.S. special forces killed an ISIS figure who controlled funding streams for the group and found computers and documents. Former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell says all that will provide something useful.


MICHAEL MORELL: Insight into the organization, insight into how it's structured, insight into how it's run, insight into how it's managed and will better able us to attack it.

KELEMEN: Speaking today at the National Press Club, Morell echoed Kerry's upbeat assessment about the fight against ISIS.


MORELL: Despite the loss of Ramadi I am pretty confident that in enough time Iraq and the coalition will push back ISIS in Iraq.

KELEMEN: That optimism is not shared, however, by Max Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

MAX BOOT: The fall of Ramadi is a major political and military disaster. And it's not offset by one tiny, little special operations raid in Syria that captured one mid-level ISIS commander. I mean, that doesn't pass the laugh test.

KELEMEN: Boot says the U.S. should be worried that Shiite militias backed by Iran are now leading the fight to try to retake the largely Sunni Ramadi from ISIS.

BOOT: The more that they are spearheading the fight against ISIS, the more that it will drive Sunnis into the arms of ISIS, which they will see as the lesser evil.

KELEMEN: As Boot points out, U.S. troops were not able to retake Ramadi from al-Qaida nearly a decade ago until it won the support of local Sunni tribes. And he thinks the U.S. will have to do something similar, though he says President Obama has different priorities.

BOOT: Above all, he doesn't want to get more deeply involved, but unless we get more deeply involved in Iraq, there is no way we can stop ISIS or, for that matter, the Shiite sectarian militias which I think are just as big of a threat.

KELEMEN: Obama's Republican critics see the fall of Ramadi as yet another sign that the U.S. shouldn't have left Iraq in 2011 and needs to be more assertive in fighting ISIS. But the Pentagon has made clear that it doesn't envision a change in strategy. And State Department Spokesperson Jeff Rathke is sounding confident that Iraqi forces getting new training from the U.S. and backed by American air power will succeed.


JEFF RATHKE: Our aircraft are in the air and searching for ISIL targets, and they will continue to do so until Ramadi is retaken.

KELEMEN: He describes Ramadi as a temporary setback. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.