Pentagon to Send Hundreds More Troops to Iraq Following Seizure of Key Airfield

Iraqi government forces drive a tank on June 22, 25 miles west of Qayyarah, where they seized control of an airfield July 9. (Mahmud Saleh/AFP via Getty Images)
Iraqi government forces drive a tank on June 22, 25 miles west of Qayyarah, where they seized control of an airfield July 9. (Mahmud Saleh/AFP via Getty Images)

Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter said Monday that the Pentagon will deploy an additional 560 U.S. troops to Iraq, a widening of the U.S. military campaign against the Islamic State that will place American military advisers at a key airfield seized by the Iraqi military Saturday.

The decision will elevate the number of U.S. troops the Pentagon counts in Iraq to 4,647. Unofficially, that figure is probably closer to 6,000 when it takes in a variety of American troops who deploy on temporary assignments that the Pentagon does not include in its official tally.

The additional service members will provide a variety of support to Iraqi forces, especially infrastructure and logistical capabilities, Pentagon officials said. They described the newly seized air base, Qayyarah Air Base, as an important springboard to take back the Islamic State-held city of Mosul, which is about 40 miles north.

“At every step in this campaign, we have generated and seized additional opportunities to hasten ISIL’s lasting defeat,” Carter told several dozen service members gathered at Baghdad International Airport, using an an acronym for the Islamic State. “These additional U.S. forces will bring unique capabilities to the campaign and provide critical enabler support to Iraqi forces at a key moment in the fight.”

The announcement came after Carter spent the day in Iraq meeting with U.S. military commanders and senior Iraqi officials. He said before arriving that the air base also could serve as an aviation hub. A small number of American troops arrived and carried out a “brief site survey” Sunday, said a senior U.S. military official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss recent operations.

Carter told reporters traveling with him Sunday that the airfield seizure would create a a “pincer” effect, placing Mosul between Iraqi security forces advancing from the south and Kurdish peshmerga forces maneuvering from the north. The United States already had established one staging base southeast of Mosul, in Makhmour, in March, but Qayyarah Air Base will provide another foothold, the Pentagon chief said.

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SOURCE: Dan Lamothe and Loveday Morris 
The Washington Post