U.S. troops are back in Iraq's Anbar province, once the deadliest battleground in Iraq, where the U.S. military teamed up with local Sunnis to crush al-Qaida during the last Iraq war.
About 50 U.S. troops have deployed to Al-Asad Air Base conducting a site survey to see if U.S. advisers can use the installation to support the Iraqi military, said Navy Cmdr. Elissa Smith, a Defense Department spokeswoman.
"A portion of the group consists of force protection personnel and any weapons U.S. forces possess are for force-protection requirements," Smith said in an email Tuesday to Military Times. "U.S. forces are not arming tribes in the region; this is a matter for the Government of Iraq and the [Iraqi Security Forces]."
Beginning in 2006, the U.S. military partnered with Sunni tribes in Anbar province to fight al-Qaida. The Sunni "Awakening" movement combined with the surge of U.S. troops in 2007 helped virtually annihilate al-Qaida in western Iraq.
But under former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi government failed to incorporate the Sunnis into the Iraqi military and police. Maliki, a Shiite, launched an overtly anti-Sunni campaign once U.S. troops left Iraq in December 2011, providing an opening for the Islamic State to follow in al-Qaida's footsteps.
The Iraqi military came to the brink of collapse in June when the Islamic State group overran Mosul and other parts of northern Iraq. President Obama recently authorized deploying 1,500 more U.S. troops to Iraq to help get the Iraqi military back into fighting shape.
"We will need approximately two months to set up the training and another six-seven months to conduct the training," Smith said.
In order for those troops to deploy, Congress needs to approve the $5.6 billion the Obama administration has requested for the "Iraq Train and Equip fund," Smith said. Until then, U.S. Central Command will plan for the deployment.