WASHINGTON — The 320 U.S. soldiers and Marines at Al Asad air base in western Iraq have been coming under "regular" mortar fire from insurgent forces for several weeks, Defense Department spokesman Col. Steve Warren told reporters Monday.
While Warren insisted that the attacks have been "wholly ineffective" and "no U.S. personnel, no U.S. equipment have been impacted in any way," this was the first time that the Pentagon acknowledged that the 2,100 U.S. troops in Iraq have been in danger since deploying late last year.
In addition to the Marines from a Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force training units with the Iraqi Army's 7th Division at Al Asad, there are another 170 U.S. soldiers from the Army's 1st Infantry Division training another four Iraqi Army battalions near Taji, which is just northwest of Baghdad.
Both sites were major U.S. bases during the American war there from 2003-2011.
Warren added that the US is currently establishing two other sites to train a total of nine Iraqi and three Kurdish battalions in Irbil in the Kurdish-controlled north and Besmaya, which is just south of Baghdad.
The Besmaya Combat Training Center was transferred to the Iraqi Army in July 2011, and was intended for use as a training site for Iraqi Army-purchased M1A1 Abrams tanks.
While the last of the 3,100 U.S. troops President Obama has committed to training and advising the Iraqi Army are arriving, equipment is also flowing into the country.
Over the past two weeks, 250 U.S.-made mine-resistant ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles have been sent to Iraq: 225 to the Iraqi Security Forces and 25 to the government in Kurdistan, according to the U.S. Central Command.
The cost of refurbishing the vehicles was $9,832,500, a command spokesman told Defense News,adding in an email that "all of the MRAPs were located and repaired in the CENTCOM Area of Operations and will be used by Iraqi and Kurdish defense forces to fight ISIL."
The Iraqi Embassy in Washington tweeted out a picture on Monday that showed what appeared to be Caiman MRAPs being offloaded from trucks.
And if other recent proposed deals are signed off on by the government in Baghdad, plenty more armor is on its way.
In December, the U.S. State Department announced that Baghdad has requested 175 more Abrams tanks and other vehicles at a cost of $2.4 billion. Baghdad also requested 1,000 Humvees for a price tag of $579 million.
Iraq had previously taken delivery of over 250 Abrams tanks from the United States.
The Pentagon continues to insist that U.S. troops will not participate in combat in Iraq against the Islamic State (IS) group, but that U.S. forces have the right to self-defense. Meanwhile, the Shiite-led government of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi is continuing to try and reach out to the Sunni tribes fighting IS in the west and north of Baghdad.
Abadi tweeted on Monday that he "urged the need for a tribal revolt" against IS during a meeting with the governor of Sunni-dominated Anbar province.