BAGHDAD – Pentagon chief Ashton Carter has said that Washington will deploy 560 additional troops to aid Iraq’s fight to retake Mosul from jihadists, deepening US military involvement in the country.
The announcement, which will bring the total authorised number of American military personnel in Iraq to more than 4,600, came two days after Baghdad said it had recaptured an airbase south of Mosul that is seen as key for the eventual battle for the city.
Iraq’s second city Mosul has been under Islamic State group control since June 2014, when the jihadists overran large parts of the country, carrying out atrocities including execution-style killings, mass kidnappings and rape.
IS also holds territory in neighbouring Syria, but has lost significant ground in both countries, and Carter wanted to highlight successes, even as the jihadists have struck back with devastating attacks in Iraq and abroad.
"I am pleased to report today that... we agreed for the United States to bolster Iraqi efforts to isolate and pressure Mosul by deploying 560 additional troops," Carter said at the Baghdad airport following meetings with the Iraqi premier and defence minister on Monday.
"With these additional US forces we are describing today, we will bring unique capabilities to the campaign and provide critical support to Iraqi forces at a key moment in the fight," he said.
’Springboard’ to Mosul
President Barack Obama made ending America’s nearly nine-year war in Iraq a centrepiece of his presidency, but Washington has been pulled back into the country by the war against IS.
And while most of the US forces in Iraq are in non-combat roles, others have directly battled IS, and three American military personnel have been killed by the jihadists.
"The additional troops will provide a range of support for Iraqi security forces, including infrastructure and logistical capabilities at the airfield near Qayyarah," the Pentagon said in a statement.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced on Saturday that Iraqi forces had recaptured the Qayyarah airbase, some 60km south of Mosul, which IS seized in June 2014. The facility had suffered some damage and IS fighters put up only minimal resistance.
The Pentagon said the base would become a vital "springboard" for the Iraqi forces’ push on Mosul.
Lieutenant General Sean MacFarland, commander of the US-led operations against IS, said the "preponderance" of the 560 additional troops will be based at Qayyarah, and would start being deployed "in fairly short order".
Earlier on Monday, Carter met with Abadi as well as Defence Minister Khalid al-Obeidi, offering condolences for recent IS attacks and congratulations on Iraqi advances.
Carter said he and Abadi discussed the next moves in the war against the jihadists, including Mosul and ways the United States could help beef up security into Baghdad and assist in detecting explosives being smuggled into the capital.
These steps include the recapture of several important areas across the two countries, including Ramadi in Iraq and Al-Shadadi, a town in northeastern Syria previously considered a strategic IS stronghold. – AFP