US weighs more Iraq training sites but no strategy overhaul
WASHINGTON / JERUSALEM - Reuters
Thousands of Iraqi soldiers take part in a training exercise led by the Spanish Army and under the guidance of the US military in the Basmaya camp in the Iraqi capital Baghdad on May 27, 2015. AFP PhotoUS President Barack Obama is considering expanding the number of training sites for Iraqi forces to bolster the battle against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), US military officials said on June 9, which could mean deploying hundreds more US forces in Iraq.
The proposed build-up follows only sporadic successes in the months-long US-backed Iraqi drive to push back ISIL, a drive that suffered a severe setback with the fall of the Anbar provincial capital Ramadi last month.
Since the loss of the city, which drew harsh US criticism of the Iraqi military performance, Washington has begun to speed up supplies of weapons to the government forces and examine ways to improve the training program.
General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made clear during a visit to Jerusalem that there were no plans to fundamentally alter Obama's military strategy that has so far kept US ground troops off the front lines.
"We've made some recommendations on potential enhancements to the training and equip mission," Dempsey said, citing options including new training sites.
Speaking to reporters traveling with him, Dempsey did not say how many extra US troops may be involved. Another senior US military official said only that the number would be modest and a third said it could mean hundreds of additional troops.
Dempsey said the US military was working on how such a program would work, including what strain it might put on Pentagon resources and troops already devoted to other missions.
Maintaining US strategy
With the effort in Iraq under fire, Obama said on June 8 the United States did not yet have a "complete strategy" for training Iraqi security forces to reconquer land lost to ISIL fighters.
Dempsey said, however, that Obama had not asked for options that "would imply the strategy is ineffective," suggesting the president sought to improve the effort now under way.
Dempsey suggested it was premature to discuss additional troop deployments until a plan had been fleshed out, saying the matter was still "to be determined."
There are about 3,000 US advisers and trainers on the ground in Iraq now.
At the Pentagon, spokesman Colonel Steve Warren said the United States had noted that forces in Iraq who had undergone US-backed training emerged as "an improved fighting force."
"Because of those observations, we've determined that it is better to train more Iraqi security forces and we're now working through a strategy for how to do that," Warren said.
The initial plan was to train about 9,000 Iraqi troops in a year. As of last June 4, 8,920 Iraqi troops had received training at four different sites and another 2,601 were currently in some stage of training, he said.
The US-trained Iraqi forces have been deployed in al-Karmah, in Samarra and along a 750-mile (1,207-km) forward line of troops in the Kurdish northern part of the country, Warren said. He said they also were preparing for future combat operations in Anbar province.
The US-trained troops did not see action in the battle for Ramadi or the struggle for the strategic oil refinery town of Baiji, where a seesaw battle between ISIL and Iraqi forces has recently seen a shift in favor of government troops.