The additional U.S. forces will be used to secure and get up and running the Qayyarah West airfield, which lies about 40 miles south of the ISIS stronghold of Mosul.
WASHINGTON (Talk Media News) – The U.S. plans to send an additional 560 troops to Iraq within the next few weeks to hasten the fight against ISIS, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Monday during an unannounced visit to Baghdad.
The additional troops will support the Iraqi forces as they move toward the ISIS-controlled city of Mosul, Carter said, Iraq’s second largest city and capital of the ISIS self-proclaimed caliphate in the country. ISIS seized Mosul in June 2014.
Specifically, the U.S. forces will be used to secure and get up and running the Qayyarah West airfield, which lies about 40 miles south of Mosul, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said. The troops will provide infrastructure and logistical support to the Iraqi forces as they fight for Mosul, he said. The Iraqis seized the base Saturday.
“As the campaign shifts toward Mosul, more than 250 miles from the Iraqi capital, the airfield will become a vital springboard for the [Iraqi security forces] offensive into Mosul. Coalition forces will also continue to provide enabler support to Kurdish Peshmerga as they converge on Mosul from Iraq’s north,” the Pentagon said in a statement.
“At every step in this campaign, we have generated and seized additional opportunities to hasten ISIL’s lasting defeat,” Carter said, using the government’s preferred acronym for ISIS. “These additional U.S. forces will bring unique capabilities to the campaign and provide critical enabler support to Iraqi forces at a key moment in the fight.”
U.S. defense officials and the Iraqi leadership hope to move on the city by the end of this year. U.S. officials have said that taking Mosul would bring about a collapse of ISIS, stripping the group of the last remaining large city under its control in Iraq.
The new deployment brings the official number of U.S. troops authorized in Iraq to 4,647. The Defense Department has acknowledged that the actual number is higher because service members who are supposed to be stationed in the country for less than four months and commandos are not part of that official count.
In April, Carter announced from Baghdad that President Barack Obama authorized an additional 217 troops to be deployed to Iraq and that the U.S. personnel advising Iraqi forces would be allowed to work with smaller groups, and hence closer to the front lines.
The leading Republicans on the House and Senate armed services committees called for the White House to request additional defense funding to pay for the most recent planned troop deployment in Iraq, as well as that announced for Afghanistan last week.
“These operations will not pay for themselves, and we cannot continue to ask our troops to do more around the world by raiding funds needed to modernize their equipment and support their training,” Senate Armed Services Chairman Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said in a written statement.
House Armed Service Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) accused Obama of keeping the troop count in Iraq and Syria as low as possible for political reasons.
“The war against ISIS and Islamic Extremists cannot be won by inches, and I am concerned that operational needs in Iraq and Syria are taking a back seat to troop levels the White House finds politically palatable,” he said in a written statement.
The Pentagon said the 560 troops were recommended by Carter and approved by Obama after consultation with Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of U.S. Central Command; and Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland, commander of Operation Inherent Resolve.
In addition to the troops, Carter said that the U.S. offered assistance to bolster security in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad to protect civilians from terror attacks, building on protocols already in place to share intelligence. Carter is directing the Joint Improvised-Threat Defeat Agency, which leads the Pentagon’s efforts to counter improvised explosive devices, to provide additional assistance that also could enhance security in Baghdad.
Last week, Baghdad suffered one of the worst attacks in its 13 years at war when an ISIS suicide bomber detonated a car full of explosives in the city’s largely Shiite Muslim Karada neighborhood, killing at least 292 people.
Carter also said the U.S. is prepared to step up its efforts to assist vetted Syrian forces willing to take on ISIS, but he did not specify how. Currently, Obama has authorized 300 troops to operate in Syria.