WASHINGTON, June 12 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President Barack Obama said on Thursday that he would not "rule out anything" in his support of the Iraqi government to cope with Islamist militants making rapid gains on the ground.
"I don't rule out anything, because 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 told reporters at the White House after meeting with visiting Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
"This is an area that we've been watching with a lot of concern not just over the last couple of days but over the last several months, and we've been in close consultation with the Iraqi government," he added.
Militants with the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL), commonly known as al-Qaida in Iraq, have seized major cities in northern Iraq in recent days, including Mosul, the second largest, and Tikrit, the hometown of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.
The group has vowed to press on to the capital city of Baghdad, while Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has reportedly asked the Obama administration to launch airstrikes against extremist staging areas in his country.
Washington expedited the delivery of weapons and ammunition to Baghdad, including Apache attack helicopters, Hellfire missiles and F-16 fighters, and stepped up training of Iraqi security forces early this year, after the ISIL and other rebels occupied Fallujah and parts of Ramadi, big cities in the western province of Anbar.
"What we've seen over the last couple of days indicates the degree to which Iraq is going to need more help," Obama said. "So my team is working around the clock to identify how we can provide the most effective assistance to them."
"I think it's fair to say that in our consultations with the Iraqis there will be some short-term, immediate things that need to be done militarily, and our national security team is looking at all the options," the president added.
White House spokesman Jay Carney quickly ruled out boots on the ground.
"We are not contemplating ground troops. I want to be clear about that," he told reporters at a daily news briefing. "The president was answering a question specifically about air strikes. "
Obama ordered the exit of all American troops in December 2011 following an eight-year-old war in Iraq, after the Arab country refused to grant legal immunity to remaining U.S. soldiers.