US troops on ground to help Ramadi fight
WASHINGTON - Reuters
REUTERS PhotoPresident Barack Obama has said American forces being sent to a new operations center in the heart of the war against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) will not engage in combat, but they will do almost everything but fight to support the beleaguered Iraqi forces.
U.S. defense officials say the tasks of the troops going to Taqaddum air base will range from advising Iraqi commanders how to ensure soldiers have enough bullets to integrating air power into combat plans.
Obama on June 10 authorized deployment of up to 450 troops to work with the dispirited 8th Iraqi army division as it tries to regroup and ultimately drive the Islamist forces back out of the city of Ramadi that they overran last month.
Americans are already operating at several other bases around the country to train, advise and support the Iraqis, who have had limited success against the Islamist militants occupying large swathes of the country in the last 18 months.
But the operation at Taqaddum, close to the Euphrates river 75 kilometers west of Baghdad between major cities held by ISIL, puts U.S. forces at the crux of the fight.
It is just 15 kilometers, a half-hour drive, east of Ramadi, the Anbar provincial capital, and about 15 kilometers to the west of Falluja, also controlled by ISIL.
Adjacent to Lake Habbaniya, the base was used by American forces who took over the country in 2003 to oust President Saddam Hussein and is in oft-contested territory familiar to many veterans of that earlier war.
Elements of the 8th Iraqi army division were involved in the April rout at Ramadi and top U.S. military officials were scornful of their performance. Defense Secretary Ash Carter questioned whether they had the will to fight.
U.S. officials said the role of the Americans at Taqaddum would also be to try to inject new spirit into the Iraqi forces as well as help the program to recruit new forces from Sunni tribes in the region.
The Iraqi military program to attract Sunni tribal fighters was based in Ramadi but moved to Taqaddum when the city fell.