US flying F-18 surveillance missions over Iraq: officials

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The United States is flying F-18 surveillance missions over Iraq from an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, officials confirm to Fox News, as President Obama weighs options for “increased security assistance” in the country.

The surveillance missions are being launched from the USS George HW Bush. It was already known that the Obama administration had authorized “manned and unmanned” surveillance flights, but F-18’s are not traditional surveillance aircraft — they are attack aircraft.

“It’s not so much about looking as it is being seen,” a U.S. official told Fox News.

Obama is thought to be leaning away from pursuing airstrikes in Iraq, as the Iraqi government battle foreign backed terrorists from the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Levant. But, after the president met Wednesday afternoon with top congressional leaders in the Oval Office, the White House confirmed Obama still is weighing various military options.

The White House said Obama reviewed with lawmakers “our efforts to strengthen the capacity of Iraq’s security forces to confront the threat from [ISIL], including options for increased security assistance.”

ISI, an offshoot of Al Qaeda, has seized Mosul, Tikrit and other Iraqi towns as members of the Iraqi military abandon their posts. The Iraqi government reportedly has appealed for the Obama administration to launch airstrikes.

While officials say no decisions have been made, one senior official told Fox News that the president appears to be leaning toward sending roughly 100 special forces into the region. Such a contingent presumably would be sent to help train the Iraqi military and boost intelligence available to the Iraqis.

An aide to Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell reiterated that ISIL poses a “grave threat to U.S. interests” and appealed to the president — as did House Speaker John Boehner — to come up with a plan.

“Unfortunately, Iraqi security forces are now less capable,..” he said. “It is critical that we protect Americans, .. and our interests.”

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