The United States is stepping up its military campaign against Islamic State by sending hundreds of additional troops to assist Iraqi forces in an expected push on the city of Mosul, the militants’ largest stronghold, later this year.
US Defense Secretary Ash Carter made the announcement on Monday during a visit to Baghdad, where he met US commanders, as well as Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi, Reuters reports.
Most of the 560 additional troops will work out of Qayara air base, which Iraqi forces recaptured from Islamic State militants and plan to use as a staging ground for an offensive to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second biggest city.
Government forces said on Saturday they had recovered the air base, about 60 kilometers (40 miles) from the northern city, with air support from the US-led military coalition.
“With these additional US forces I’m describing today, we’ll bring unique capability to the campaign and provide critical support to the Iraqi forces at a key moment in the fight,” Carter told a gathering of US troops in Baghdad.
The new troops were “ready to come” and it would be a matter of “days and weeks, not months”, he said.
Abadi has pledged to retake Mosul by the end of the year.
However, there is still debate in Washington about the timing of a move on Mosul.
Some US and allied military and intelligence officials warn that aside from its elite counter terrorism force, the Iraqi military is not ready to take on Islamic State militants in Mosul without significant assistance from the Kurdish peshmerga and Shi’ite militias.
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