Newspaper article International New York Times

U.S. to Send More Troops to Iraq as Focus Shifts

Newspaper article International New York Times

U.S. to Send More Troops to Iraq as Focus Shifts

Article excerpt

The Obama administration said it would establish a new military base in Anbar Province and to send up to 450 more American military trainers to help Iraqi forces retake the city of Ramadi.

President Obama has authorized the deployment of up to 450 more American troops to Iraq to train and assist the Iraqi forces battling the Islamic State, the White House announced on Wednesday, signaling a major shift of focus in the battle against the Sunni militant group.

The United States forces will use Al Taqqadum, an Iraqi base near the town of Habbaniya in eastern Anbar Province, as their training center, the White House said. Mr. Obama opted to send them at the request of Prime Minsiter Haider al-Abadi of Iraq, and after consultation with Ashton B. Carter, the secretary of defense, and Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"These new advisers will work to build capacity of Iraqi forces, including local tribal fighters, to improve their ability to plan, lead, and conduct operations against ISIL in eastern Anbar under the command of the prime minister," Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, said in a statement, using an acronym for the Islamic State. "This train, advise, and assist mission builds on lessons learned during the past several months and is just one aspect of our commitment to support the Iraqi Security Forces."

Mr. Obama will also speed up the delivery of weapons and equipment to Iraqi forces, including pesh merga and tribal fighters who are under Iraqi command.

The new plan follows months of behind-the-scenes debate about how prominently plans to retake Mosul, another Iraqi city that fell to the Islamic State last year, should figure in the early phase of the military campaign against the group.

The Obama administration took pains to assert that the steps did not constitute a change in strategy.

"This decision does not represent a change in mission, but rather adds another location for D.O.D. to conduct similar activities in more areas in Iraq," the Department of Defense said in a statement. "This effort is in keeping with our overarching strategy to work with partners on the ground to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL."

It said the new location would bring American troop levels in Iraq up to 3,550.

The fall of Ramadi last month effectively settled the administration debate, at least for the time being. American officials said Ramadi was now expected to become the focus of a lengthy campaign to regain Mosul at a later stage, possibly not until 2016.

The additional American troops will arrive as early as this summer, a United States official said, and will focus on training Sunni fighters with the Iraqi Army. The official called the coming announcement "an adjustment to try to get the right training to the right folks. …

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