The United States is considering replicating the creation of a new US military hub in Anbar elsewhere in Iraq as the campaign against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) advances, the top US military officer said last night.
"It's another one of the options that we're considering," General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a small group of reporters before landing in Naples, Italy, acknowledging that the operation might require more troops.
Gen Dempsey said examination of such a possibility was "just part of prudent planning."
His comments came a day after US President Barack Obama ordered the deployment of 450 additional US troops to Iraq as the US establishes a hub in the Sunni heartland to advise and assist Iraqi forces seeking to retake territory lost to Isil.
The hub will be located at the Taqaddum military base, which is only about 25km from Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, which fell to Isil militants last month.
Gen Dempsey described the Taqaddum base as a "lily pad" for the US military to expand farther in Iraq to help encourage and enable Iraqi forces to battle Isil. He said planning for other such sites was not just at the theoretical level.
"It's very practical, looking at geographic locations, road networks, airfields, places where we can actually establish these hubs," Gen Dempsey said.
Gen Dempsey did not see another such site in Anbar province any time soon.
"But I could conceive of one potentially somewhere in the corridor that runs from Baghdad to Tikrit to Kirkuk and over into Mosul. So we're looking at that area," Gen Dempsey said.
The plan to expand the 3,100-strong US contingent in Iraq and open a new operations centre closer to the fighting in Anbar province marks an adjustment in strategy for Mr Obama, who has faced mounting pressure to do more to blunt the momentum of the insurgents. But with Mr Obama sticking to his refusal to send troops into combat or to the front lines, the White House announcement failed to silence critics of the limited US military role in the conflict.
But the real test was whether Iraq could mend a sectarian rift, something that was up to the country's political leaders.
"When people say: 'Is this a game changer? This new partner capacity site? No.' It's an extension of an existing campaign that makes the campaign more credible," Gen Dempsey said.
"The game changers are going to have to come from the Iraqi government themselves."
Meanwhile, Al-Qa'ida's affiliate in Syria has killed at least 20 Druze after a confrontation in the northwestern Idlib province, where the jihadi group has forced hundreds of members of the minority sect to covert to Sunni Islam, an activist group and a Syrian opposition faction said yesterday.
The killings occurred on Wednesday in the Druze village of Qalb Lawzeh in the Jabal al-Summaq region, where Jabhat al-Nusra has destroyed shrines in recent months.