The U.S. has agreed to deploy more than 200 additional troops to Iraq and to send eight Apache helicopters for the first time into the fight against the Islamic State group in Iraq, the first major increase in U.S. forces in nearly a year, U.S. defense officials said Monday.
The uptick in American fighting forces—and the decision to put them closer to the front lines—is designed to help Iraqi forces as they move to retake the key northern city of Mosul.
Speaking to reporters Monday in Baghdad, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said the decision to move U.S. advisers to the Iraqi brigade and battalion level will put them “closer to the action,” but he said they will have security forces with them and the U.S. will do what’s needed to reduce the risks.
A senior U.S. official said that there will be eight Apache helicopters authorized to help the Iraqi forces when Iraq leaders determine they need them. The official, who was not authorized to discuss the numbers publicly, spoke on condition of anonymity.
Last June the Obama administration announced that hundreds of troops would be deployed to help the Iraqis retake Ramadi—a goal they accomplished at the end of the year.
Of the additional troops announced Monday, most would be Army special forces, who have been used throughout the anti-Islamic State campaign to advise and assist the Iraqis. The remainder would include some trainers, security forces for the advisers, and maintenance teams for the Apaches.
The decisions reflect weeks of discussions with commanders and Iraqi leaders, and a decision by President Barack Obama to increase the authorized troop level in Iraq by 217 forces—from 3,870 to 4,087. The advise-and-assist teams—made up of about a dozen troops each—would embed with Iraqi brigades and battalions, likely putting them closer to the front lines and at greater risk from mortars and rocket fire.
Later, Carter announced to the troops that the U.S. aid will extend to the Kurdish Peshmerga forces fighting in northern Iraq. Carter said the U.S. has authorized sending up to $415 million to the Kurds over time.