American Defense Secretary Ash Carter made the statement to send 560 U.S. troops during an unannounced visit to Iraq. The Qayara air base is about 40 miles south of the city of Mosul. The new troops are there to aid Iraqi forces prepare and execute an offensive to retake the city from Islamic State militants, also known as ISIS or ISIL.
The additional soldiers will surge the number of U.S. troops in Iraq to 4,647, according to the Associated Press. Carter referred to the additional troops as “advisers.” The last increase came three months ago.
“With the retaking of Qayara West airfield, the Iraqi forces have once again demonstrated a serious will to fight,” said Carter, referring to the campaign against ISIS, according to USA Today.
The one-day visit to Iraq by the Defense Secretary came following a summit with NATO leaders, where U.S. allies agreed to also increase support for the war against ISIS.
Carter is scheduled to meet with the Prime Minister of Iraq, Haider al-Abadi, Minister of Defense Khalid al-Obeidi, and the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, Lt. General Sean MacFarland. They will be discussing the next moves in the war.
American troops are still behind the front lines, although they have been getting closer to it. In April, U.S. president Barack Obama authorized troops to assist Iraqi military forces at brigade and battalion levels. Previously, soldiers had been limited to advising at the headquarters and division levels. They are still ordered not to engage in direct combat.
The Qayara base was seized by Iraqi troops on Saturday. It’s considered an important component in the effort to recapture Mosul. The city is the next major target in the effort to defeat ISIS. Mosul was occupied by ISIS in 2014. Other large population centers such as Fallujah and Ramadi have also recently been retaken. Needing time to prepare for battle, an offensive against Mosul may not take place until the later in the year. In the meantime, forces are working to surround the city
Mosul is Iraq’s second-largest city. The approach to Mosul contains many smaller villages. Analysts say the city and surrounding areas will be difficult to retake, with ISIS fighters embedded deeply in dense population areas.
The United States is assisting the fight by contributing supplies and equipment as well. They are aiding Kurdish forces fighting ISIS in the north of Iraq. They have also been supplying rebel groups in Syria fighting Islamic State militants in that region.
ISIS still controls large areas of both Iraq and Syria. Mosul has been a key base for Islamic State, and losing control of the large city would be a major setback for the militants. But as they have been losing ground, ISIS tactics have changed to launching more frequent terrorist strikes.
One of the most recent attacks was a suicide bombing in a commercial area in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad. Up to 186 people were killed in the latest blast. Carter expressed his condolences on behalf of the American people and said it has strengthened the will to fight the terror group. He also offered Iraqi leaders American assistance in countering terrorism, both in Baghdad and the rest of the country.
American troops have been present in Iraq since their invasion to topple dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003. At one point, there were over 150,000 U.S. soldiers in the ethnically divided country, as well as military personnel from allied countries. Some critics blame the American invasion for the creation of ISIS. They say that deposing Hussein created a political vacuum in Iraq that was filled by various radical groups, with ISIS emerging as the most successful.
ISIS supporters are mostly composed of Sunni Muslims. Many Sunnis in Iraq feel they are discriminated against by the Shiite majority government and population. There is also a large Kurdish minority fighting for autonomy in the north of Iraq.
[Photo by Associated Press]