The Obama administration has approved plans to send 1,500 more U.S. troops to Iraq to help train Kurdish and Iraqi forces fighting against the Islamic State. The new deployment will double the number of troops currently assisting in the fight. The New York Times said the new advisers would establish new training grounds across Iraq in “a significant expansion of the American military campaign in Iraq and Syria against the Islamic State.”
The additional troops will operate in the Anbar Province in western Iraq, where militants and the Islamic State have been snatching up territory. The White House will also soon request about $6 billion from Congress for operations, including $1.6 billion to train and equip Iraqi troops. Congressional representatives will return to Washington next week.
The announcement came at a politically advantageous time.
With the mid-term elections safely in the past, the administration can make the potentially unpopular move to send more troops to Iraq, without fears that it would hurt Democrat politicians.
Still, the administration is insisting that the new troop deployment is not “mission creep” in Iraq, and U.S. forces will not be engaged in combat. Since pulling troops out of the country in 2011, President Obama has consistently said he will not send ground troops back in, despite the growing threat of the Islamic State. An official reiterated the president’s policy.
“The mission is not changing at all for our service members, [the president] made clear that we are not going to be putting U.S. men and women back into combat. We will continue to assure people that this is a different kind of mission.”
Instead, U.S. and allied air forces have been conducting airstrikes, and the fight on the ground has fallen primarily to Kurdish and Iraqi forces.
According to ABC News, the airstrikes have been effective.
The Islamic State has gone from taking territory in Syria and Iraq with virtually no resistance to being bogged down in Kobani. A Kobani activist described the growing desperation.
“Their bodies are left for days rotting in the street without anyone picking them up.”
According to the AP, about 600 ISIS fighters have died in the battle for Kobani, the group’s largest losses since the beginning of its blitz through the Middle East.
Faysal Itani, a resident fellow at the Atlantic Council, says that the need to maintain the groups reputation limits their options. A withdrawal in the face of U.S. airstrikes and Kurdish forces could prove too costly.
But with new U.S. troops training forces in Iraq that blow may be inevitable.
[Image Credit: Pete Souza/Wikimedia Commons]