The Pentagon is planning to send more combat troops into Iraq
By Andrew Tilghman
U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Jordan Crupper, an artilleryman, and Sgt. Onesimos Utey, an artillery section chief, both with Task Force Spartan, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), prepare an Excalibur 155 mm round on Fire Base Bell, Iraq, while conducting fire missions against an Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) infiltration route March 18, 2016. Operation Inherent Resolve is an international U.S. led coalition military operation created as part of a comprehensive strategy to degrade and defeat ISIL. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Andre Dakis/Released)
The Pentagon will likely send more troops into Iraq in the "coming weeks" to support operations the fight against the Islamic State militants in Mosul, the military's top officer said Friday.
Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that he and Defense Secretary Ash Carter will recommend to the White House expanding the an expansion for the footprint of U.S military footprint there as Iraqi forces undertake a complicated, large-scale offensive to oust ISIS from its stronghold in the country's north troops.
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Currently, the current U.S. force level in Iraq is officially capped at 3,870. But privately, but defense officials say privately that the real number is closer to around 5,000 when accounting for troops considered to be there on "temporary" deployment.
Among those temporary troops was Marine Staff Sgt. Louis Cardin, of Temecula, California, who was killed on March 19 in an ISIS by an artillery rocket on that struck Fire Base Bell in northern Iraq. The rocket was fired by Islamic State militants, also known as ISIS or ISIL.
Before Cardin’s death, military officials had not publicly acknowledged the fire base's existence. It of the firebase, which was created several days before the fatal attack, near the forward line of troops and the Iraqi army's division headquarters in the northern Iraqi town of Makhmour.
Dunford said the decision to send more U.S. troops would be "focused on what is it we need to do to maintain momentum in the campaign and what specifically do we need to do to enable operations in Mosul."
In December, Carter told Congress that the Obama administration was willing send additional combat advisers and attack helicopters for close air support if the Iraqis made an official request for such additional assistance. The Iraqi government declined that military support, mainly because many powerful Shiite factions in Baghdad oppose expanding the U.S. military presence.
The Iraqi army on Thursday announced the launch of an offensive to seize several villages south of Mosul, operations aimed at which aims to cutting off key supply lines to ISIS territory south and east of Mosul.
Marines at Fire Base Bell provided artillery fire support for the offensive operations, military officials said.
U.S. Marines operating at Firebase Bell fire an M777A2 Howitzer at an ISIS infiltration route March 18.
Photo Credit: Cpl. Andre Dakis/Marine Corps
About Andrew Tilghman
Andrew Tilghman is the executive editor for Military Times. He is a former Military Times Pentagon reporter and served as a Middle East correspondent for the Stars and Stripes. Before covering the military, he worked as a reporter for the Houston Chronicle in Texas, the Albany Times Union in New York and The Associated Press in Milwaukee.