560 US troops headed to Iraq before push to retake Mosul, Pentagon says

The troops will help establish a newly retaken air base to support an anticipated battle to recapture Mosul from the Islamic state, part of a shift in how US forces are aiding Iraqi Security Forces. 

AP Photo
Visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter, center left, accompanied by the Iraqi Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi, center right, arrives to the Ministry of Defense in Baghdad, Iraq, on Monday, July 11, 2016. As Carter arrived in Iraq, Monday, he said U.S. and coalition forces will use the newly retaken air base in Qayara as a staging hub as Iraqi security forces move closer to the long-awaited battle to recapture Mosul from Islamic State militants. Carter landed in Baghdad on an unannounced visit and says U.S. advisers are prepared to accompany Iraqi battalions, if needed, as those units move closer to the fight for Mosul.

The United States will send 560 more troops to Iraq to help establish a newly retaken air base as a staging hub for the long-awaited battle to recapture Mosul from Islamic State militants, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Monday on an unannounced visit to the country.

Most of the new troops will be devoted to the build-up of the Qayara air base, about 40 miles south of Mosul, and include engineers, logistics personnel and other forces, Carter said. They will help Iraqi security forces planning to encircle and eventually retake the key city.

"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," Carter said, according to prepared remarks.

He revealed President Barack Obama's decision as he spoke to about 120 troops in a building at Baghdad's airport, shielded from scorching desert hovering near 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Many were members of the 101st Airborne Division, known as the Screaming Eagles. The increase brings the total U.S. force authorization in Iraq to 4,647, and comes just three months after Obama's last troop addition.

Carter told reporters earlier that U.S. advisers are prepared to accompany Iraqi battalions if needed, as those units begin the siege of the key northern city. It's not clear when exactly that will happen. U.S. officials said a team of American troops went into Qayara for a quick site assessment Sunday and left.

One potential job is helping Iraqi troops use highly technical bridging capabilities to get across the river into Mosul.

Carter called this weekend's recapture of Qayara a key strategic victory. Speaking to reporters before he arrived in Baghdad, he said the air base will be one a hub from which "Iraqi Security Forces, accompanied and advised by us as needed, will complete the southern-most envelopment of Mosul. That's its strategic role, and that's its strategic importance."

He likened the air base to how forces used the eastern city of Makhmour. There, U.S. troops set up a fire base for artillery to support advancing Iraqi units. Marine Staff Sgt. Louis F. Cardin was killed at the fire base in March in an IS rocket attack.

Iraqi forces retook the air base from the Islamic State group on Saturday. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi hailed the success as a key step toward Mosul, Iraq's second largest city. Residents there should "get ready for the liberation of their areas," al-Abadi said.

U.S. officials said American advisers are already working at brigade level with Iraqi special operations forces, but they have not yet accompanied them on operations. They weren't authorized to discuss the matter publicly and demanded anonymity.

Obama in April allowed U.S. troops to assist Iraqi forces at brigade and battalion levels, where they could be at greater risk closer to the battle. They would still be behind front lines. They previously had been limited to advising at headquarters and division levels, further from the battle.

The Pentagon is moving American troops "closer to the action," Carter said this spring, as The Christian Science Monitor reported:

The thinking is that local forces can take over the security of territory once Islamic State fighters are ousted, but they aren't yet capable of winning the territory back by themselves. ...

Some Republican lawmakers call the slow but steady force build-up “grudging incrementalism.” And the strategy holds risks beyond the potential for increased American casualties.

Unless the Iraqi government can overcome sectarian tensions that have hindered its effectiveness and acceptance, it won't be capable of building the skilled, professional, and nonsectarian local forces needed to keep the peace in the long run. 

Yet some officials believe strengthening support for Iraqi forces will also help improve governance, and decrease incentives to support the Islamic State, as the Monitor reported. 

Carter is expected to meet al-Abadi and minister of defense Khalid al-Obeidi, and Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland, the top U.S. military commander for the Islamic State fight. The main topic, he said, will be the next steps in the military campaign, with a particular focus on Mosul.

IS captured Mosul in the summer of 2014. It has used the city as a main headquarters since.

Carter's daylong visit to Iraq comes on the heels of the two-day NATO summit where allies agreed to expand their military support for the war.

In addition to Qayara, Iraqi government troops recently have retaken Ramadi, Fallujah and a number of towns along the route to Mosul.

But Islamic State militants still control large swaths of the country and continue to launch deadly attacks, including a massive suicide bombing last week at Baghdad's bustling commercial area of Karada. As many as 186 were killed.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.