560 American Troops Heading to Iraq, Defense Secretary Says

By The Associated Press
The Associated Press
The Associated Press
July 11, 2016 Updated: July 11, 2016

BAGHDAD  — 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.

US Marine snipers from the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, take cover during a gun battle with insurgents in Ramadi in Anbar province, Iraq, on Oct. 31, 2004. US President Barack Obama said Friday, Nov. 7, 2014, that he authorized the deployment of up to 1,500 more American troops to bolster Iraqi forces. For the first time since the US withdrawal in Dec. 2011, American military personnel will be on the ground in Iraq's historically dangerous Anbar province, helping train the Iraqi military for its fight against the Islamic State group. Anbar resonates with many Americans because they recall how costly the fighting was there for US troops. More than 3,500 US soldiers died in combat in Iraq between 2003 and 2011 - and there are concerns that sending Americans back to Anbar in any capacity will inevitably make them a target. (AP Photo/Jim MacMillan)
US Marine snipers from the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, take cover during a gun battle with insurgents in Ramadi in Anbar province, Iraq, on Oct. 31, 2004. (AP Photo/Jim MacMillan)

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.”

U.S. F/A-18 fighter jets take off for mission in Iraq from the flight deck of the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush, in the Persian Gulf, Monday, Aug. 11, 2014. U.S. military officials said American fighter aircraft struck and destroyed several vehicles Sunday that were part of an Islamic State group convoy moving to attack Kurdish forces defending the northeastern Iraqi city of Irbil. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali)
U.S. F/A-18 fighter jets take off for mission in Iraq from the flight deck of the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush, in the Persian Gulf, Monday, Aug. 11, 2014. U.S. military officials said American fighter aircraft struck and destroyed several vehicles Sunday that were part of an Islamic State group convoy moving to attack Kurdish forces defending the northeastern Iraqi city of Irbil. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali)

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.

FILE - In this April 28, 2016 file photo, Defense Secretary Ash Carter testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. The NATO alliance is considering establishing a rotational ground force in the Baltic states and possibly Poland, reflecting deepening worry about Russian military assertiveness, Carter said Monday, May 2, 2016.  (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)
In this April 28, 2016 file photo, Defense Secretary Ash Carter testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. The NATO alliance is considering establishing a rotational ground force in the Baltic states and possibly Poland, reflecting deepening worry about Russian military assertiveness, Carter said Monday, May 2, 2016. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

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.

MacFarland told reporters during a press conference that the new forces will begin flowing into Iraq “relatively soon” and said they have already gotten their so-called warning orders to deploy.

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.