WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Obama administration is getting ready to deploy an additional 615 U.S. troops to assist Iraqi forces in retaking Mosul from the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL), bringing the overall number of American service members in the country to 5,262.
“At the request of myself and Chairman Dunford, and with the support and approval of Prime Minister Abadi, President Obama has authorized approximately 600 additional U.S. troops to further enable Iraqi forces,” said U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter in a statement issued Wednesday.
Abadi revealed that the Iraqi government requested more U.S. military trainers and advisers, reports Reuters. Currently, there are 4,647 U.S. service members in Iraq. That count may not include forces on temporary duty or those attached to the embassy, which means the tally could be higher.
“The troops, in close coordination with the government of Iraq, will provide specific capabilities including logistics and maintenance support; train, advise and assist teams for Iraqi Security Forces and Kurdish Peshmerga for the upcoming Mosul operation; and expanded intelligence resources to help disrupt ISIL’s terrorist network in Iraq and beyond,” pointed out the U.S. Secretary of Defense.
Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, noted that the additional 615 U.S. troops are the number of forces expected to enable the Iraqi security forces to recapture Mosul.
“There are no major objectives after that,” he added. “This is it. This is the last big holdout in Iraq for ISIL.”
Nevertheless, Carter suggested that American forces may remain in Iraq after the fall of Mosul, telling reporters while traveling in New Mexico, “Mosul will be the last of the very large cities that needs to be recaptured, but they’ll need to continue to consolidate control over the whole city.”
Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, has been identified as ISIS’ last major stronghold and de facto capital in Iraq.
Both the White House and the Pentagon have announced the deployment, which will reportedly take place in the upcoming weeks.
While the Iraqi troops will be on “front lines by and large,” U.S. forces will provide logistics support as well as offering advice and assistance to their Iraqi counterparts on the ground, White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters on Wednesday.
Nevertheless, he warned: “Our men and women in uniform, while they have a different mission than the one that was given to them by President George W. Bush, still are putting themselves in harm’s way.”
“I’ve always been very mindful that when I send any of our outstanding men and women in uniform into a war theater, they’re taking a risk that they might not come back,” President Barack Obama acknowledged during CNN’s presidential town hall in Virginia.
Meanwhile at the Pentagon, Carter said the additional U.S. troops would “help accelerate the campaign at this critical phase.”
“We are continuing to increase pressure on ISIL in Mosul in particular and in anticipation of that coming fight… as we close in on Mosul,” noted Davis.
As far as to when the Mosul offensive would start, Reuters reports “U.S. and Iraqi commanders say the push on Mosul could begin by the second half of October.”
The Pentagon chief noted that Mosul operation would intensify “in the coming weeks.”
Davis said the 615 troops would be deployed to the Al-Asad Air Base in the Euphrates River Valley north of Baghdad, and Qayyarah Air Base, located about 40 miles from Mosul.
“This does not mean any greater role for [U.S.] service members in terms of what their mission is,” he stressed, adding that the Iraqi troops “will continue to be the primary trigger-pullers.”
The U.S. and Iraq have been preparing to recapture Mosul for months.
Back in July, Carter announced that an additional 560 U.S. troops would be heading to Iraq ahead of the upcoming Mosul offensive. Those troops were expected to operate out of the Qayara air base, located about 40 miles from Mosul.
“With these additional U.S. forces I’m describing today, we’ll bring unique capability to the campaign and provide critical support to the Iraqi forces at a key moment in the fight,” the Pentagon chief said at the time, anticipating that the additional American boots would hit the ground within “days and weeks, not months.”
In April, the Obama administration authorized the deployment of about 217 troops, also to serve in advisory and training roles in the fight against ISIS ahead of the Mosul offensive.
“The Iraqis also got Apache attack helicopters and a HIMARS rocket system. Another $415 million was sent to the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters,” reports NBC News.