Ash Carter: U.S. sending more troops to Iraq

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Defense Secretary Ash Carter

(CNN) — Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, who arrived in Baghdad Monday, announced the U.S. is sending 560 additional troops to Iraq as part of the stepped-up fight against ISIS.

Most of the troops will be stationed at the recently recaptured Qarayyah airfield, which is about 25 miles south of Mosul and will be a key staging area for the upcoming U.S. and Iraqi effort to retake that city from the terror group..

President Barack Obama approved the deployment, which brings the new troop cap will to 4,647.

A senior U.S. military official said the number of additional troops is what Gen. Sean MacFarland, commander of the coalition against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, had asked for, and the official added that there could additional troop requests in the future.

Carter said the additional troops had will deploy in days or weeks and had already received their orders.

The 560 new U.S. troops are specifically for the fight to retake Mosul. They will assist the Iraqis troops on the Qarayyah base with logistics, because a large number of Iraqis will be sent there. But the Americans may also advise and accompany Iraqi forces, as well as working on the air intelligence picture.

“At every step in this campaign, we have generated and seized additional opportunities to hasten ISIL’s lasting defeat,” Carter said in a statement, using another name for ISIS. “These additional U.S. forces will bring unique capabilities to the campaign and provide critical enabler support to Iraqi forces at a key moment in the fight.”

Rep. Mac Thornberry, chairman of the House Armed Service Committee, said in a statement he was “concerned that operational needs in Iraq and Syria are taking a back seat to troop levels the White House finds politically palatable.”

“The war against ISIS and Islamic Extremists cannot be won by inches,” the Texas Republican said. “Added to the President’s Afghanistan announcement last week, the United States will now be deploying thousands more troops than we have budgeted for in the President’s budget request. Those deployments can only be fully supported through a supplemental budget request. I look forward to reviewing the President’s request when he sends it to Congress, as I believe he now must.”

Carter arrived in Baghdad Monday to discuss the Iraqi army’s plans — including U.S. involvement — to retake the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, which has been in ISIS hands since June 2014.

On the flight to the Iraqi capital, Carter discussed the seizure of the Qarayyah airfield from ISIS, saying that Iraqi forces’ control of the installation will likely lead to the establishment of a logistics hub.

Iraqi forces, backed by U.S.-led airstrikes, retook the air base near Mosul from ISIS, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Saturday.

The recapture of Qarayyah, one of the biggest air bases in Iraq, is seen as a breakthrough in the mission to liberate Mosul, and comes just weeks after Iraq declared it had regained full control of Falluja, ISIS’ main stronghold in the country, as the militant group loses more ground.

Iraqi officials say they will move the headquarters for the liberation of Mosul to Qarayyah and its airstrip will bring Iraqi and coalition aircraft that much closer to the city.

U.S. involvement?

Carter also reiterated on the flight to Baghdad that U.S. forces would accompany an assault — in an advisory capacity — on Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city and the largest in Iraq under ISIS control.

“U.S. units are prepared to advise and accompany to the battalion level, and I announced several months ago, Iraqi forces moving from the south on Mosul,” Carter said. “All of that is part of the campaign plan that we’ve agreed to with Iraqis.”

On this, his fifth trip to the Iraqi capital, Carter was greeted at his plane in Baghdad by U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Stuart Jones and MacFarland.

During a meeting later at the prime minister’s office, Carter expressed condolences to the Iraqi people on behalf of the U.S. for the recent terror attacks in Iraq and said it strengthened his determination to fight ISIS.

Iraqi forced poised to recapture city

Iraqi Defense Minister Khalid Al-Ubaidi, a Mosul native, has declared that “2016 will be the year of the liberation of Mosul and the rest of Iraq.”

Already, in just over a year, Iraq has driven ISIS out of the key cities of Tikrit, Ramadi and Falluja.

Iraqi and Kurdish forces have been training and preparing for the final battle. A new “Nineveh Liberation Operations Center” has been set up to coordinate the offensive, complete with dozens of U.S. and British advisers. Nineveh is the province where Mosul is located. A U.S. artillery unit is also providing cover for operations south of Mosul.

Kurdish forces, or Peshmarga, are already dug in to the east, north and west of Mosul, and Iraqi forces are moving slowly from the south. If previous experience is anything to go by, they’ll probably encircle the city, clearing ISIS from the towns and villages around it, before entering the city proper.

There they can expect the usual combination of ISIS tactics — snipers, suicide bombers, suicide car bombers and thousands of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).

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