The United States has once again upped its participation in the war in Iraq for the second time in two months. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter was in Baghdad and announced a troop increase and greater participation. More trainers and artillery were being sent, Apache helicopters would have a bigger role, and the Kurds were getting financial help as well.
In March 2016 the U.S. sent marines covertly to Ninewa. The new force was called a temporary deployment to keep them off the books, but they pushed the American military presence in the country to over 5,000. The marines opened up a firebase to support the Iraqi army for the eventual freeing of the province. Their deployment was quickly revealed when the Islamic State killed a marine. The base marked a major change in strategy for Washington. It was now looking to place its forces near the front so that they could take part in offensive operations instead of just doing advising and training.
By early April, the Pentagon let it be known that it wanted another small increase in troops and greater freedom of action. It said more advisers and trainers would be sent, and they would work closer to the front, and that Apache helicopters would be used. This was part of President Obama’s decision to increase pressure on the Islamic State and take on Mosul by the end of the year. In order to do that, the White House wanted more direct support for the Iraqi forces.
On April 18 during a trip to Baghdad, Defense Secretary Ash Carter made a formal announcement about the new policy. 217 new troops were to be sent, which would take on a mix of duties including advising, force protection, and servicing helicopter. Most of the advisers were to come from the Special Forces and would imbed with Iraqi brigades and battalions with the 15th Division in the Makhmour district of Ninewa. Before U.S. troops had only operated at the division level. Secretary Ash also noted that Apaches could be used for offensive operations. In December, Prime Minister Haidar Abadi turned down an offer to use the American helicopters, but now the two countries appeared to be on the same page. High Mobility Artillery Rockets Systems (HiMARS) would also be sent to Ninewa. They have the range to hit Mosul from Makhmour allowing the U.S. to back the Iraqi advance all the way to the city. Finally, $415 million would be allocated to the Peshmerga to help the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) with its military bills, while it is facing a financial crisis with its oil economy collapsing.
The Americans would also be increasing their raids upon high value Islamic State officials. On April 17, a U.S. helicopter landed in Badush, Ninewa south of Mosul and seized an IS member out of his car. The next day, American and Kurdish Special Forces killed Salman Abu Shabib al-Jabouri, aka Abu Saif, and two of his aides in Hamam Ali, Ninewa. He was in charge of operations in Makhmour and was a member of IS’s military council. These were meant to weaken IS’s leadership in Ninewa in the area where the U.S. troops are deploying to. The Pentagon was hoping to hit the militants’ foot soldiers and their leadership weakening the group from the top and bottom.
Overall, the new U.S. deployment is not much, but the White House can only work in increments given the political situation in Iraq. Premier Abadi is in a precarious situation right now, especially as his reform program is collapsing around him. Many of his critics within the Shiite parties completely reject the Americans being in the country, and the pro-Iranian ones constantly claim the U.S. is actually backing the Islamic State. Given that situation in Baghdad, Washington can only move forward in increments otherwise it would provoke a strong reaction from Abadi’s opponents, weakening him further. Together the two countries have been able to forge closer military cooperation, and the new troops will be able to provide quicker responses to threats posed by the insurgents. Hopefully that will save Iraqi lives and hasten the defeat of the Islamic State.
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