US deploys 200 troops to Iraq in fight against Isil
The US has agreed to deploy more than 200 extra troops to Iraq and to send eight Apache helicopters for the first time into the fight against Isil in Iraq, the first major increase in US forces in nearly a year, defence officials said.
The uptick in American fighting forces - and the decision to put them closer to the front lines - is designed to help Iraqi forces as they move to retake the key northern city of Mosul.
Speaking to reporters yesterday in Baghdad, US Defence Secretary Ash Carter said the decision to move US advisers to the Iraqi brigade and battalion level would put them "closer to the action", but he said they would have security forces with them and the US would do what was needed to reduce the risks.
A senior US official said that there would be eight Apache helicopters authorised to help the Iraqi forces when Iraq leaders determine they needed them. The official was not authorised to discuss the numbers publicly so spoke on condition of anonymity.
Last June, the Obama administration announced that hundreds of troops would be deployed to help the Iraqis retake Ramadi - a goal they accomplished at the end of the year.
Of the additional troops announced yesterday, most would be special forces, who have been used throughout the anti-Isil campaign to advise and assist the Iraqis. The remainder would include some trainers, security forces for the advisers, and maintenance teams for the Apaches.
The decisions reflect weeks of discussions with commanders and Iraqi leaders, and a decision by President Barack Obama to increase the authorised troop level in Iraq by 217 forces - or from 3,870 to 4,087. The advise-and-assist teams - made up of about a dozen troops each - would embed with Iraqi brigades and battalions, likely putting them closer to the front lines and at greater risk from mortars and rocket fire.
The US, said Mr Carter, was "on the same page with the Iraqi government" in how to intensify the fight against the Isil.
The proximity to the battlefront will allow the US teams to provide more tactical combat advice as the Iraqi units move toward Mosul, the country's second-largest city, still under Isil control. Until now, US advisers have worked with the Iraqis at the headquarters level, well back from the front lines.
Mr Carter called the addition of the Apache helicopters significant, because they can "respond so quickly and so dynamically to an evolving tactical situation".
He said he discussed the Apaches with Iraq Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, and "he understood that it would be necessary for just these cases and agreed with me that we would provide it".
Last December, US officials were trying to carefully negotiate new American assistance with Iraqi leaders who often have a different idea of how to wage war. At that time, the Iraqis refused Apache helicopters for the battle to retake Ramadi, saying they didn't think they were needed.
Mr Carter also said that the US would send an additional long-range, rocket-assisted artillery system to Iraq.
US officials have also said that the number of special operations forces in Syria would be increased at some point.