Islamic extremists have seized large parts of Iraq, they are getting closer to Baghdad and the government there is pleading with President Obama for help.
On Friday, the president responded.
"We will not be sending U.S. troops back into combat in Iraq, but I have asked my national security team to prepare a range of other options that could help support Iraq security forces, and I'll be reviewing those options in the days ahead," Mr. Obama said.
What is already being done to help Iraq and what are Mr. Obama's options?
The Pentagon increased spy flights over Iraq using high flying Global Hawk drones as it developed plans for air strikes designed to blunt the insurgent march south -- and in the words of one officer, "give the Iraqi government a chance to catch its breath."
At the same time, the aircraft carrier the U.S.S. George H. W. Bush is expected to be ordered into the Persian Gulf where it would join ships armed with cruise missiles. B-1 bombers capable of carrying more than 100,000 pounds of satellite-guided bombs are already stationed in the country of Qatar.
Despite all the firepower, officials said there are not many lucrative targets when bombing an insurgent force of fewer than 10,000 which communicates over cell phones, travels in pick-up trucks and could be hard to distinguish from civilians. In addition to the danger of civilian casualties, air strikes could drag the U.S. into the midst of a civil war between Sunnis and Shiites, although the president has ruled out sending in ground troops.
It will take the aircraft carrier about 30 hours to reach the northern Persian Gulf, which is the ideal location for launching strikes into Iraq. But the timing of any strikes also depends on how fast the insurgents march toward Baghdad.
The United States spent more than $25 billion training and equipping the Iraqi army. Why is it collapsing?
First and foremost promotions under Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki were based not on military ability but on personal loyalty to him and the inevitable result was a poorly led army.
Second all American training ended two and a half years ago when the last U.S. troops left and the Iraqi army has been going steadily downhill ever since, both in its ability to conduct operations and in the morale of its soldiers.
What more is the U.S. willing to do?
The president met with his military advisers again Friday. He was presented with a range of military and political options. No clear strategy emerged.
"We want to make sure that we've gathered all the intelligence that's necessary so that if, in fact, I do direct and order any actions there, that they're targeted, they're precise and they're going to have an effect," Mr. Obama said.
Mr. Obama said any action is at least several days away. And he delivered a warning to Maliki: Work with your Sunni political opponents or risk losing your country and the support of the U.S.
"This should be a wake-up call," Mr. Obama said. "The United States is not simply going to involve itself in a military action in the absence of a political plan by the Iraqis that gives us some assurance that they're prepared to work together."
Top White House advisers tell CBS News there is no scenario that imagines the insurgents taking Baghdad. President Obama expects Iraqi security forces to fight there even though they have fled elsewhere. That will give Mr. Obama time to plot military attacks and the Iraqi prime minister an opportunity, perhaps his last, to become the inclusive political leader he has long refused to be.
Map credit: IBTimes/Long War Journal