US President Barack Obama is considering sending several hundred more troops to Iraq to help train local forces battling Islamic State (IS) fighters, it has been reported today.
The expected White House decision is not a shift in US strategy but is aimed at helping Iraq retake Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, and eventually blunt IS's battlefield momentum.
The decision, which could be announced as soon as Wednesday, would increase the number of US training sites in Anbar from four to five and enable a larger number of Iraqis — mostly Sunni tribal volunteers, in this case — to join the fight against the militant group. It is consistent with the overall US approach of building up Iraqi forces while simultaneously conducting aerial bombing of IS targets.
Obama said earlier this week that the US lacked a "complete strategy" for helping Iraq regain territory from IS, reported the BBC. US officials have said repeatedly that getting the Sunnis more deeply involved in the war is critical to ousting IS from Anbar.
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IS took control of Ramadi in May, along with the Syrian town of Tadmur and its ancient ruins of Palymra. The group took control of Iraq's second largest city, Mosul, a year ago this week.
The president has ruled out sending US ground combat forces to Iraq. There are now fewer than 3,100 US troops there in training, advising, security, and other support roles. The US also is flying bombing missions as well as aerial reconnaissance and intelligence-gathering missions to degrade IS forces, while counting on Iraqi ground troops to retake lost territory.
A US official said on Wednesday that the extra training site would be at al-Taqqadum, a desert air base that was an American military hub during the Iraq war. Establishing the training camp will require between 400 and 500 US troops, including trainers, logisticians, and security personnel, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because a final administration decision had not been announced.
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The US already is training Iraqi troops at four sites — two near Baghdad, one at al-Asad air base in Anbar, and one near Erbil in northern Iraq.
The addition of one training site is a modest tweak to the existing US approach in Iraq. It was unclear on Wednesday how many more Iraqi troops could be added to the fight against IS in coming months by opening one new base. One official said the training at al-Taqqadum is likely to begin this summer.
Over the past year the US has trained approximately 9,000 Iraqi troops.
The new plan is not likely to include the deployment of US forces closer to the front lines to either call in airstrikes or advise smaller Iraqi units in battle, officials said. One official, however, said the adjustment may include a plan for expediting the delivery of arms and military equipment to some elements of the Iraqi military.
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.