The United States will send about 600 more American soldiers to Iraq to prepare local forces for the upcoming battle to retake Mosul from ISIL fighters.
US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter announced on Wednesday that the US troops will advise Iraqi soldiers and provide logistics support and intelligence for the operation to recapture the country’s second-largest city from ISIL – also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIS.
“American President Barack Obama was consulted on a request from the Iraqi government for a final increase in the number of trainers and advisers under the umbrella of the international coalition in Iraq,” Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in a statement.
Last week, Abadi met Obama and Vice President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, though it was not clear whether the deal was sealed there.
|President Obama and Vice President Biden hold talks with Abadi in New York on September 19 [Reuters]|
‘No boots on the ground’
US Army General Joseph Votel, who oversees US forces in the Middle East, told Reuters in July that the US military expected to seek additional troops in Iraq
There are at least 4,400 US troops in Iraq as part of a US-led coalition providing extensive air support, training and advice to the Iraqi military, which collapsed in 2014 in the face of ISIL’s advance towards capital Baghdad.
Iraqi forces, including Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and mostly Iranian-backed Shia militias, have retaken about half of that territory over the past two years.
But Mosul, the largest city under ISIL’s control, is likely to be the biggest battle yet.
US and Iraqi commanders have said that the push to retake the city could begin by the second half of October.
Current US troop levels in Iraq are still a fraction of the 170,000 deployed at the height of the nine-year occupation that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003, sparking an al-Qaeda-backed insurgency and throwing the country into a sectarian civil war.
Following the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, Obama insisted that there would be no American “boots on the ground”.
While coalition troops were initially confined to a few military bases, Americans have inched closer to the action as the campaign progresses