The United States will send 217 more troops, including special operations forces, to Iraq, the Associated Press reported Monday. The troops will serve as advisers and trainers to Iraqis as they struggle to fight the Islamic State group, aka ISIS.
This marks the first major increase in U.S. forces in nearly a year and will bring the total number of U.S. troops in Iraq to 4,087. The decision comes as the cash-strapped Iraqi forces are moving to retake the northern city of Mosul, which is seen as key to reclaiming control of the country.
The U.S. will also provide Apache attack helicopters and an additional Himars rocket system, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Monday during an unannounced visit to Baghdad. Carter’s stop in Iraq was part of a trip through the Middle East to ask U.S. allies for help with efforts to rebuild portions of Iraq that have been destroyed during the war against ISIS, NBC News reported.
The new U.S. troops will be allowed to advise battalions and brigades, putting them closer to the front lines than when troops were restricted to advising at the division level. This will put Americans “closer to the action,” Carter said, but they will have security forces with them to reduce risks.
Discussion of sending additional U.S. forces to Iraq began last month when the Iraqi military began preparing to retake Mosul. President Barack Obama has been reluctant to send more American troops to Iraq, as he campaigned on a promise to withdraw from the country. However, efforts to defeat ISIS have been the major exception to this.
Last summer, the president said he would send hundreds of military forces to train Iraqi troops in the Anbar province, adding to the 3,000 U.S. troops already there. In addition to training troops, the U.S. military has been conducting airstrikes against ISIS and trying to block its finance networks.
American troops also helped the Iraqi military prepare to take the city of Ramadi from ISIS last year. They hope to capture that momentum and help Iraq as the country continues to struggle politically and economically.
The U.S. will also give $415 million to the Peshmerga, a Kurdish military group. Defense officials told NBC News they see the new moves as continuations of the American strategy that began last year. Iraqi leaders have been hesitant to accept more American troops, defense officials told the AP, but they need capabilities that only U.S. or other coalition forces can provide.