Of­fi­cials: U.S. to send more troops to Iraq to help with Mo­sul

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - OBITUARIES - By Robert Burns

AL­BU­QUERQUE, NEW MEX­ICO >> The U.S. is send­ing 615 more troops to Iraq as the stage is set for an Iraqi-led bat­tle to re­claim Mo­sul, the north­ern city that has been the Is­lamic State group’s main strong­hold for more than two years. The of­fen­sive, start­ing as soon as Oc­to­ber, looms as a de­ci­sive mo­ment for Iraq and for Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s much-crit­i­cized strat­egy to de­feat IS.

“These forces will be pri­mar­ily to en­able Iraqi se­cu­rity forces and also (Kur­dish) Pesh­merga in the op­er­a­tions to iso­late and col­lapse ISIL’s con­trol over Mo­sul, but also to pro­tect and ex­pand Iraqi se­cu­rity forces’ gains elsewhere in Iraq,” De­fense Sec­re­tary Ash Carter told re­porters Wed­nes­day. The Pesh­merga are Kur­dish mili­tia fight­ers who are gen­er­ally among the most pro­fi­cient ground forces in Iraq but whose role is po­lit­i­cally sen­si­tive there.

Carter said the ex­tra Amer­i­cans would per­form mul­ti­ple roles at mul­ti­ple lo­ca­tions, in­clud­ing at Qaraya West air base south of Mo­sul, where they will be build­ing up the base to make it a hub for Iraq forces, and at al-Asad air base in An­bar prov­ince more than 200 miles away, where they will strengthen sup­ply lines for the move­ment of sup­plies north to­ward Mo­sul.

Obama ap­proved the de­ploy­ment, which Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pen­tagon spokesman, said would to­tal 615 troops who would be­gin mov­ing out “very soon.” Al­though the Amer­i­cans are not to par­tic­i­pate di­rectly in com­bat, they may in some cases move for­ward with Iraqi com­bat forces and could face IS at­tacks.

There were 4,565 U.S. forces in Iraq as of Wed­nes­day, ac­cord­ing to the Pen­tagon. That num­ber does not in­clude as many as 1,500 troops who are there on tem­po­rary duty or are not counted for other book­keep­ing rea­sons.

Carter un­der­scored the po­ten­tial risks to all U.S. troops in­volved in the cam­paign.

“We’re in a sup­port role, but I need to make clear once again: Amer­i­can forces com­bat­ting ISIL in Iraq are in harm’s way,” he said. “No one should be in any doubt about that.”

Davis said most of the new U.S. troops will do lo­gis­tics and main­te­nance, oth­ers will pro­vide ex­panded in­tel­li­gence and sur­veil­lance for the Mo­sul op­er­a­tion and some will ad­vise and as­sist the Iraqi and Pesh­merga forces. He said im­prove­ments at al-Asad air base, for ex­am­ple, could in­clude adding in­stru­ment land­ing sys­tems that would help with night­time flight op­er­a­tions.

He also said that U.S. and coali­tion troops may be needed to help en­sure that other towns and ar­eas in Iraq re­main se­cure and out of IS con­trol. He said if mil­i­tants try to launch at­tacks in other places while the Mo­sul op­er­a­tion goes on, the Iraqis need to be able to re­spond.

Iraqi Prime Min­is­ter Haider al-Abadi, in a state­ment posted on his of­fi­cial web­site, said Wed­nes­day the ex­tra U.S. troops would “pro­vide sup­port for se­cu­rity forces and the Iraqi heroes in the fight loom­ing in the lib­er­a­tion of Mo­sul.” He said the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion had ap­proved his gov­ern­ment’s re­quest for the in­crease.

Em­pha­siz­ing that the Amer­i­cans are there as ad­vis­ers, Abadi added: “It is our troops who will lib­er­ate the land.”

Abadi’s last point is cen­tral to the U.S.-Iraqi strat­egy for de­liv­er­ing what Carter has called “a last­ing de­feat” to the Is­lamic State. Al­though some in the U.S. have urged Obama to put larger num­bers of Amer­i­can com­bat troops on the ground in Iraq to de­feat IS quickly, the ad­min­is­tra­tion has ar­gued that a vic­tory on those terms would be short-lived. They as­sert that Iraq must muster the will and co­he­sive­ness — mil­i­tar­ily and po­lit­i­cally — to de­fend its own ter­ri­tory once the Is­lamic State has been pushed out.

For Obama, Iraq is not the only im­por­tant bat­tle­field. He faces even greater un­cer­tainty and a dim­mer out­look in neigh­bor­ing Syria. The Is­lamic State has lost ter­ri­tory in Syria over the past year, but the U.S. has fewer re­li­able part­ner forces on the ground there. Even amid prepa­ra­tions to re­take Mo­sul, the U.S. is try­ing to fash­ion an al­liance of Syrian Arab and Kur­dish fight­ers to as­sault Raqqa, the mil­i­tants’ main strong­hold in Syria. The U.S. has only about 300 troops on the ground in Syria as ad­vis­ers.

Mo­sul, the sec­ond-largest city in Iraq, will be a key test, but a vic­tory there is un­likely to mean an end to Iraq’s trou­bles. In a post-Is­lamic State Iraq, the en­mi­ties and ri­val­ries among the play­ers in the anti-IS coali­tion could easily erupt. The Iraqis have as­sem­bled a frag­ile al­liance — Iraqi troops along­side Shi­ite mili­ti­a­men, Sunni Arab tribes­men, Kur­dish fight­ers and U.S spe­cial forces.

Al­though some Western of­fi­cials have pointed to Oc­to­ber as the likely start of a Mo­sul of­fen­sive, it’s un­clear whether Iraq will be ready by then. Carter said on Wed­nes­day, “We are on sched­ule in terms of mar­shalling the force there,” sug­gest­ing they are ready, or nearly ready.

Asked whether the ex­tra 615 U.S. troops will be the fi­nal ad­di­tion be­fore the Mo­sul cam­paign kicks off, Carter said, “This is what we now fore­see as re­quired for the en­vel­op­ment and seizure of Mo­sul. He said U.S. forces would re­main for an un­de­ter­mined pe­riod to help the Iraqi gov­ern­ment con­sol­i­date its con­trol over Mo­sul af­ter the an­tic­i­pated suc­cess­ful of­fen­sive.

U.S.-led coali­tion forces re­cently sped up train­ing for Iraqi troops and Kur­dish fight­ers, con­dens­ing cour­ses that once took more than two months into just four weeks. In July, the Pen­tagon an­nounced that 560 more U.S. troops would de­ploy to Iraq to trans­form Qa­yara air base, west of the city of Qa­yara and south of Mo­sul, into a stag­ing hub for the fi­nal as­sault.

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