Sunday 4 December 2016

Policy shift as 'US plans to send hundreds more troops' to Iraq

Raf Sanchez in Washington

Published 11/06/2015 | 02:30

Iraqi soldiers train with members of the US Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, at Camp Taji, Iraq. Photo: Reuters
Iraqi soldiers train with members of the US Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, at Camp Taji, Iraq. Photo: Reuters

The White House is reportedly planning a shift in strategy in Iraq that would see hundreds of American military trainers deployed to help retake Ramadi and the delay of long-held plans to drive the Islamic State from Mosul.

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Six months after US forces began training Iraqi troops to take on the jihadist fighters, a string of defeats on the battlefield has prompted the Obama administration into a recalibration of its plans.

According to the 'New York Times', the US now intends to put its focus on the Sunni province of Anbar in western Iraq and establish a new base there to train Iraqi troops.

The American military hopes to build up enough well-trained and well-equipped Iraqi forces to retake the city of Ramadi, which fell to Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) in mid-May.

The plan would see US troop levels in Iraq rise from their current 3,000 to around 3,500.

But the focus on Anbar province will come at the expense of long-held ambitions to liberate Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, which was captured by Isil in June last year. In February this year, the Pentagon boasted openly that it was preparing Kurdish and Iraqi troops for an assault on Mosul in northern Iraq by the end of May.

That timeline slipped as Isil fighters gained ground in Anbar and now appears to have been pushed back into next year.

The shift in White House thinking reflects the frustration with Iraqi forces unable to hold their own against Isil troops but also the limits of air power in defeating a determined insurgency on the ground.

The US and a coalition of Western and Arab allies have flown more than 4,000 bombing missions against Isil but have been unable to stop them from gaining ground in both Iraq and Syria.

The last US troop increase came in November, when Mr Obama ordered up to 1,500 new troops to Iraq.

Since the loss of Ramadi, which led to harsh US criticism of the Iraqi military performance, Washington has begun to speed up supplies of weapons to the government forces and examine ways to improve the training programme.

Meanwhile, fighters from the Yazidi community of Iraq, whose men and women have been killed and taken into slavery by Isil jihadists, have been accused of carrying out reprisal attacks on Sunni Arab villages.

A researcher from Amnesty International claims that Yazidi fighters allied to Shia militia groups fighting Isil in northern Iraq attacked two Sunni Arab villages.

Killings

Residents said the militia killed 21 people in the settlements of Jiri and Sibaya, near Mount Sinjar, the centre of the Yazidi community and focus of fighting ever since it was surrounded by Isil last summer.

The Yazidis also abducted 40 people, 17 of whom were still missing, the researcher said. The report claimed that the killings happened "with impunity" - that forces loyal to the Kurdish regional government were nearby but did nothing to stop the killings.

"We could not imagine the assailants would target the old and the sick but they did," one man, whose father (66) was shot dead in his wheelchair, said.

Isil attacked areas of northern Iraq on the fringes of the Kurdish autonomous region last August, driving thousands of Yazidis and Christians out of their villages.

Thousands of Yazidi men were lined up and shot, while thousands of women were taken into captivity, many handed over to jihadists as sex slaves.

Both communities have since formed their own self-defence militias, with the intention of fighting alongside the Kurdish forces, known as the Peshmerga.

Meanwhile, Shia militias have also fought their way northwards, and have also been accused of war crimes.

Amnesty said there had still been no proper investigation into the murders of about 46 people in the recaptured town of Barwana, further south, by members of the Badr Organisation, the biggest Shia group.

Speaking about the alleged killings carried out by Yazidi fighters, the Amnesty researcher, Donatella Rovera, said: "It is deeply troubling to see members of the Yazidi community, who have suffered so much at the hands of the Isil, now themselves committing such brutal crimes."

Irish Independent

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