U.S. de­ploys more troops to Iraq to help free Mo­sul

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY CARLO MUNOZ

The U.S. and Iraq took a big step closer to a show­down with Is­lamic State fight­ers last Wed­nes­day as the Pen­tagon an­nounced that 615 more U.S. sol­diers are head­ing to Iraq in an­tic­i­pa­tion of the bat­tle to lib­er­ate Mo­sul, Iraq’s sec­ond-largest city.

The move pushes the num­ber of Amer­i­can troops in the coun­try above 5,000 for the first time since 2011, when Pres­i­dent Obama an­nounced what he said was the end of the U.S. com­bat mis­sion in Iraq.

Over 5,200 Amer­i­can troops will be on the ground work­ing along­side Iraqi and coali­tion forces in the fi­nal push to drive out the Is­lamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL. Mo­sul and the Syr­ian city of Raqqa are the two big­gest cities held by the vi­o­lent ji­hadi group that swept across the re­gion two years ago.

The in­flux of troops will likely be the last be­fore U.S.-backed Iraqi and Kur­dish forces launch the long-awaited as­sault on Mo­sul. Iraqi Prime Min­is­ter Haider alAbadi char­ac­ter­ized the ad­di­tional U.S. troops, who he stressed would serve only as ad­vis­ers and train­ers, as the “fi­nal in­crease” needed be­fore op­er­a­tions can be­gin, likely in mid-Oc­to­ber.

“We em­pha­size that the role of the train­ers and ad­vis­ers is not com­bat, but for train­ing and con­sul­ta­tion only,” Mr. al-Abadi said in a state­ment. “It is our troops who will lib­er­ate the land.”

Gen. Joseph F. Dun­ford, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said this month that all U.S. as­sets needed to sup­port the Mo­sul op­er­a­tion would be in place by Oc­to­ber — which could mean heavy fight­ing in Iraq while Amer­i­cans head to the polls in early Novem­ber.

Pen­tagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis de­clined to con­firm a time­line for the as­sault but said the ad­di­tional U.S. forces would “ac­cel­er­ate the cam­paign as we close in on Mo­sul.”

‘Ma­jor’ objective

Ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials es­ti­mate that 3,000 to 4,000 Is­lamic State fight­ers are hun­kered down in­side Mo­sul, part of the ter­ror­ist group’s more than 10,000-mem­ber force stretch­ing all the way to Raqqa. An Is­lamic State de­feat in Mo­sul would, for all in­tents and pur­poses, end the two-year U.S. mis­sion in Iraq.

“There are no other ma­jor ob­jec­tives,” Capt. Davis said. “This is it.”

The po­lit­i­cal fall­out from the Mo­sul fight could have ma­jor im­pli­ca­tions for the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion a lit­tle more than a month away.

Demo­crat Hil­lary Clinton and Repub­li­can Don­ald Trump have traded barbs over the state of the war against the Is­lamic State. A quick vic­tory for the U.S. and its al­lies could boost Mrs. Clinton, while a stale­mate or mil­i­tary re­ver­sal could help Mr. Trump, who once la­beled Pres­i­dent Obama and Mrs. Clinton the Is­lamic State’s “co­founders” be­cause they failed to an­tic­i­pate the ter­ror­ist group’s rise.

Iraqi forces re­took Ra­madi, Fal­lu­jah and other key con­quests of the Is­lamic State within a mat­ter of weeks, but Bagh­dad and Wash­ing­ton have warned re­peat­edly that the fight for Mo­sul will be more dif­fi­cult.

U.S. mil­i­tary of­fi­cials have re­fused to dis­cuss any of the po­lit­i­cal cal­cu­la­tions for the Mo­sul of­fen­sive, even on back­ground. The de­ploy­ment of more U.S. troops was “long an­tic­i­pated and long planned” as part of the Mo­sul strat­egy, Capt. Davis.

He said he could not rule out ad­di­tional de­ploy­ments if needed.

“Any­thing we do, we do with the per­mis­sion … of the gov­ern­ment of Iraq,” Capt. Davis said. “Any­thing we do in the fu­ture [in Iraq] will be based on those pa­ram­e­ters.”

Bat­tle plans

Most of the 615 U.S. troops will sup­port the fight to re­take Mo­sul from al-Asad air base in An­bar prov­ince, about 100 miles west of Bagh­dad, and Qa­yara air­field, roughly 40 miles south of the Is­lamic State strong­hold, Capt. Davis said. They will han­dle the main­te­nance and op­er­a­tional lo­gis­tics tied to U.S. air op­er­a­tions out of both bases, which will in­volve a mas­sive uptick in ac­tiv­ity once the Mo­sul of­fen­sive gets un­der­way.

U.S. ad­vis­ers are help­ing var­i­ous fac­tions con­struct small fire­bases and mil­i­tary camps en­cir­cling Mo­sul. The bases, in con­junc­tion with a main U.S. mil­i­tary lo­gis­tics hub in the tiny town of Qa­yara, will serve as jump­ing-off points for 14 Iraqi army brigades and thou­sands of Kur­dish pesh­merga and mostly Shi­ite mili­tia fight­ers to ad­vance on the city.

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