Why the US is sending more troops and helicopters to Iraq

As Iraqi forces prepare to take back from ISIS the nation's second largest city, additional US troops will be sent to help.

REUTERS/U.S. Army/Chief Warrant Officer 2 Anthony Bailey/Handout
An AH-64D Apache attack helicopter pilot from 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, fires a 2.75 inch hydra aerial folding-fin rocket, producing a blast of smoke and fire, while conducting a gunnery on the outskirts of Baghdad, November 9, 2009.

The United States will send more than 200 additional troops and eight apache helicopters to Iraq in an effort to bolster local forces as they prepare to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, from the so-called Islamic State.

US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter made the announcement Monday while visiting top American and Iraqi officials in Baghdad. The additional 217 troops will boost total US forces from 3,870 to 4,087 and include Army special forces, trainers, security forces for the advisers, and maintenance teams for the Apaches.

Some of these will be placed closer to the front lines although the US said it would take measures to reduce the risks. The US will also boost funding to the Kurdish Peshmerga forces fighting ISIS in northern Iraq by an additional $415 million over time, according to the Associated Press.

Secretary Carter said the US government was “on the same page” as the Iraqi government in terms of how to intensify the fight against Islamic State, a different scenario to June last year before a coalition of troops successfully retook Ramadi.

“The proximity to the battlefront will allow the US. teams to provide more tactical combat advice as the Iraqi units move toward Mosul, the country's second-largest city, still under Islamic State control. Until now, US advisers have worked with the Iraqis at the headquarters level, well back from the front lines.

Carter called the addition of the Apache helicopters significant, because they can "respond so quickly and so dynamically to an evolving tactical situation," AP reported.

The level of detail already known about the upcoming operation to retake Mosul came as a surprise to many when a US military official revealed the planned campaign in February, The Christian Science Monitor’s Anna Mulrine reported.

It will be carried out by roughly 24,000 Iraqi troops who are currently training to retake Mosul from an estimated 1,000 to 2,000 IS fighters.

“I was surprised to see them do this,” retired Lt. Gen. David Barno, who served as commander of US forces in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005, told The Monitor. “It’s a little perplexing to me to go into the amount of detail and the timelines that they did.”

The additional US troops are the first significant boost in numbers for about a year.

Carter said the addition of the Apache attack helicopters was important because they can  "respond so quickly and so dynamically to an evolving tactical situation."

He said he had discussed their use with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and, "he understood that it would be necessary for just these cases and agreed with me that we would provide it."

Their agreement on the helicopters stood in contrast to the battle for Ramadi last year when Iraqi forces refused their use believing they were unnecessary.

Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland, the top US military commanders in the fight against the Islamic State, said the additional funding to Peshmerga forces was in part to help them overcome food shortages which have been depriving them of the necessary energy needed to keep fighting.

"Right now the peshmerga are not getting enough calories to keep them in the field, so we're very interested in making sure that they have enough food just to carry on the fight," he said.

As well as putting some troops closer to the fight, the US will send an extra long-range rocket artillery unit to support Iraqi ground forces in the battle for Mosul.

"This will put Americans closer to the action," Carter said. "Their whole purpose is to be able to help those forces respond in a more agile way.

This report contains material from Reuters and the Associated Press.

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