Tuesday, March 29, 2016

U.S. Expanding Military Role In Iraq


The Americans are sending in more troops to Iraq and expanding their area of operation within the country. That was recently highlighted when a U.S. marine was killed in Ninewa, which led to the revelation of a firebase being set up in the province. This larger involvement is meant to help the Iraqi forces expand their offensive capabilities to clear out Anbar and Ninewa governorates.

The idea of sending U.S. forces to more bases in Iraq has been talked about for months. Back in June 2015 when 450 soldiers were being sent to the Taqadum base near Ramadi in Anbar, Reuters reported that the Obama administration were thinking about more such arrangements in the country so that it could expand its advise and assist mission to the Iraqi forces. In October Defense Secretary Ash Carter told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the White House wanted to start ground actions against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The talk was of carrying out more raids against IS commanders and leaders, but it was quickly revealed that meant troops in bases taking on a larger role. In November and December it was revealed that American soldiers in Anbar were firing artillery and High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) starting in the summer to support the Ramadi offensive. That provided another platform for the U.S. to use along with its air strikes, which proved crucial to breaking down IS’s defenses in the city, and its eventual liberation. These forces are now going to support the Iraqi forces operations to clear out the rest of the province.

After that success the U.S. began focusing upon Mosul. In January 2016 it was announced that the American military was thinking of putting its forces in bases in Ninewa. That was exactly what happened but secretly at first. Marines from the 26th Expeditionary Unit built Firebase Bell in Makhmour, Ninewa at the start of March. They brought artillery with them to support the new offensive in that district. It’s been speculated that if HIMARS were deployed there they could reach Mosul and provide close support to advancing Iraqi forces all the way up to the city. Their presence was revealed when a Marine was killed in an IS rocket attack upon the base in the middle of the month. There may be further forward placements in the future as hinted at by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford and Defense Secretary Carter. Already the number of troops has passed the 3,870 that are officially there to around 5,000 using “temporary” deployments to mask their presence.

The United States was very slow in joining the fight against the Islamic State. That brought a huge amount of criticism and mistrust by Iraqis. Washington and its western Coalition is now the main military backer of Baghdad, especially since Iran is more involved in Syria and the Russian operations there. The U.S. is quickly expanding its role in Iraq, and taking part in combat even though it will not admit it publicly. Its role is still constrained by Iraqi politics with anti-American factions like the Sadrists and pro-Iranian parties like Badr and parts of State of Law being opposed to more U.S. involvement. Still, it appears the President Obama and Prime Minister Haidar Abadi have been able to expand the American role on the ground, which will help in the coming effort to take back territory form the Islamic State.

SOURCES

Cooper, Helene, “U.S. May Put Forces at Iraqi Bases in Effort to Retake Mosul,” New York Times, 1/22/16

Gibbons-Neff, Thomas, “Behind the scenes in the Marine Corps mission against the Islamic State,” Washington Post, 12/22/15

Miklaszewski, Jim and Kube, Courtney, “Ashton Carter: U.S. to Begin ‘Direct Action on the Ground’ in Iraq, Syria,” NBC News, 10/27/15

Morgan, Wesley, “How the U.S. campaign in Iraq has escalated with a new weapon: rocket artillery,” Washington Post, 11/24/15

Rogoway, Tyler, “Shadowy Marine Artillery Base In Iraq Attacked Again After Deadly ISIS Rocket Strike,” Foxtrot Alpha, 3/24/16

Al-Salhy, Suadad, “US ‘builds combat base in Iraq’s Anbar province to fight IS,’” Middle East Eye, 3/24/16
- “US combat troops in anti-IS Mosul offensive,” Middle East Eye, 3/24/16

Schogol, Jeff, “Marines in Iraq technically not in combat but still getting some,” Marine Corps Times, 3/25/16

Starr, Barbara, “U.S. sets up firebase in Northern Iraq,” CNN, 3/20/16

Stewart, Phil, “U.S. military considering more Anbar-style hubs in Iraq: officer,” Reuters, 6/11/15

Tilghman, Andrew, “The Pentagon is planning to send more combat troops into Iraq,” Military Times, 3/25/16

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