Military Times

Start of Iraqi training mission still months away

It's likely to be several months until the new American-led mission to train Iraqi soldiers gets underway, a Pentagon spokesman said Tuesday.

President Obama in November authorized an expanded mission that will raise the total U.S. force level in Iraq to as many as 3,100 troops and set up four training sites where Americans will instruct Iraqi forces in basic combat skills.

But no additional U.S. troops have received deployment orders yet, in part because Congress only recently approved funding for the mission as part of a massive annual defense bill on Dec. 12.

"It's going to be a period of several months before we're actually ready ... to get it launched and get it going," said Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Defense Department spokesman.

For now, military officials are working to determine precisely which U.S. troops and units will be tapped for the training mission, Kirby told reporters.

Meanwhile, about 200 troops who were previously deployed to Iraq are laying the groundwork for the training mission by selecting sites and preparing infrastructure, Kirby said.

Some other allied nations also will be sending troops to support the training effort, but how many is unclear, he said.

Troop levels in Iraq have remained steady for weeks at around 1,600. Most are either protecting the U.S. Embassy and other American facilities or are part of a small advise-and-assist program that is placing teams of Special Forces troops with upper-level Iraqi army headquarters units.

An additional 1,500 troops are likely to deploy during the next several months, including about 870 who will set up training camps for Iraqis and offer unit-level training similar to what the U.S. military provided for years prior to 2011.

Extremists loyal to the Islamic State group control large swaths of northern and western Iraq, including the country's second-largest city, Mosul.

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