Pentagon increases US troops and financial aid in fight against Isis
Kurdish peshmerga soldiers stand guard at a checkpoint in north-western Iraq. Photograph: Alice Martins/AP
- US troops would be largely advise-and-assist teams, says Ash Carter
- Pentagon will also provide up to $415m to Kurdish peshmerga units
American officials say the US will send 200 more troops and a number of Apache helicopters to Iraq to assist in the fight against the Islamic State group.
“We are going to bring in additional forces,” said the defense secretary, Ash Carter. He said the new forces would largely be used to advise Iraqi forces “closer to the action”.
The announcement comes during a push to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city and the largest held by Isis in Iraq. The decision reflects weeks of discussions with commanders and Iraqi leaders, and a decision by Barack Obama to increase the authorised troop level in Iraq by 217 or to 4,087 from 3,870.
The Pentagon will also provide up to $415m to Kurdish peshmerga military units, as the Kurdish government struggles with a budget deficit. Carter said the US is “on the same page with the Iraqi government” regarding its strategy against terror groups.
Most of the additional troops would probably be army special forces, who have been used to advise and assist the Iraqis. The remainder would include some trainers, security forces for the advisers and more maintenance teams for the Apaches.
The advise-and-assist teams, made up of about a dozen troops each, would embed with Iraqi brigades and battalions, putting them closer to the fight and at greater risk from mortars and rocket fire. They would have security forces with them.
The announcement follows reports from Kurdish security sources that a member of Isis’s war council and two aides were killed in northern Iraq on Monday by US and Kurdish commandos, in the second helicopter raid in two days in the area.
A statement by the Kurdish regional security council said Monday’s raid, south of Mosul, killed Suleiman Abd Shabib al-Jabouri, also known as Abu Saif.
As a member of the militant group’s war council, the statement said, he had been responsible for offensives in Makhmour, 50 miles from Mosul, where an Iraqi army push launched last month has stalled.
In a separate operation on Sunday, troops from a US-led coalition landed a helicopter north of Mosul and seized at least one Isis member from a vehicle, witnesses and Kurdish security sources said.
The force quickly took off again with their captive, the sources told Reuters.
“It all happened in less than 10 minutes,” said a witness to the raid in Badush district, about 12 miles north-west of Mosul, the largest Iraqi city still in the hands of Isis.
A spokesman for the US coalition could not immediately be reached for comment on the latest raid. He previously declined to confirm or deny reports of the earlier raid.
A news agency that supports Isis said the militants had thwarted them earlier raid in Badush.
There appears to be an increase in these sorts of operations since the US announced last December it was deploying a new force of special operations troops to Iraq to conduct raids against Isis there and in neighbouring Syria.
The militant group’s second-in-command and other senior leaders were probably killed last month by an airstrike after a US special forces helicopter was fired on from the ground.
US special forces operating with Kurdish commandos rescued 69 Iraqis in an October raid in the northern city of Hawija, in which one US soldier was killed.
The operations are aimed at escalating pressure on Isis after the Iraqi army won its first major victory over the insurgents last December in Ramadi. The authorities have said they want to retake Mosul this year, but Iraqi officials have questioned in private whether this is possible.