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President Barack Obama said Thursday that the United States is prepared to take “targeted and precise” military action against Islamist militants in Iraq, but he pledged that American forces “will not be returning to combat.”

Obama did not provide detail about the nature of the military action or say whether it would include airstrikes. He also said the United States is prepared to send as many as 300 American military advisers to train, advise and support Iraqi security forces.

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He said that the fate of Iraq hangs in the balance. Still, the president said: “American forces will not be returning to combat in Iraq, but we will help Iraqis as they take the fight to terrorists.”

“We do not have the ability to simply solve this problem by sending in tens of thousands of troops and committing the kinds of blood and treasure that has already been expended in Iraq,” Obama said. “Ultimately, this is something that is going to have to be solved by Iraqis.”

He spoke from the White House briefing room after meeting with national security advisers.

Obama did not call for the resignation of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Administration officials have said they are frustrated with the reluctance of Maliki, a Shiite, to create a coalition with meaningful Sunni inclusion and are looking for alternatives as Obama considers military options.

A Sunni Islamist militant group, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, has swept across northern Iraq in recent days, capturing major cities and claiming to have executed Iraqi security forces. The crisis has plunged Iraq into its greatest uncertainty since the eight-year U.S. occupation ended in 2011.

Asked whether he regretted not leaving a residual American force in Iraq at that time, Obama said that it was a decision made by the Iraqi government.

Obama said that Secretary of State John Kerry will lead a diplomatic effort and will leave this weekend for meetings in the Middle East and Europe.

— Andrea Mitchell and Erin McClam