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US Defense Secretary: More Troops to Go to Iraq


Visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter, left, shakes hands with Iraqi Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi at the Ministry of Defense, Baghdad, Iraq, July 11, 2016.

Visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter, left, shakes hands with Iraqi Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi at the Ministry of Defense, Baghdad, Iraq, July 11, 2016.

The United States will deploy 560 more troops to Iraq to help prepare for the fight for Mosul. The Islamic State militant group currently holds the city. However, Iraqi forces recently recaptured an airbase nearby.

The additional troops will go to that airbase, says American Defense Secretary Ash Carter. He made the deployment announcement during a visit to Baghdad Monday.

The Qayyarah Airbase West is about 60 kilometers south of Mosul. Carter said it will serve as a planning and flight center for the coalition.

A top U.S. defense official said the Iraqi government capture of the airbase marks the completion of the coalition’s first 10 steps toward defeating the Islamic State. The official spoke on the condition that his identity would not be reported.

Ash Carter is meeting in Baghdad with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi. Carter will speak by phone with Masoud Barzani, the president of Iraqi Kurdistan.

What were the 10 steps?

In December and January, President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Carter set 10 goals to meet before two important cities could be captured. One was Raqqah in Syria, which served as Islamic State’s capital. The other was Mosul, the terrorist group’s largest base in Iraq.

The recapturing of Hit, Rupta and Ramadi in Iraq were key steps toward dividing the Iraq and Syria battlefields, said one top defense official. Establishing a staging base in Makhmour has been considered a critical step in surrounding Mosul.

In Syria, control of Shaddadi was also critical. The town is along the road from Raqqah to Mosul. Ash Carter said control of Shaddadi left Islamic State core “severed in half.” He said it interfered with the movement of people and supplies between the two cities.

U.S.-trained opposition forces took the northern Syrian city of Manbij, also one of the 10 steps. Last month a coalition spokesman based in Baghdad described Manbij as a “hub” for Islamic State foreign fighters.

Another of the 10 steps was the start of a program to train and supply anti-IS forces within northeast Syria, said a second defense official.

Mosul fight shaping up

The plan to take Mosul in the south required the capture of Makhmour to the southeast and Qayyarah airbase to the southwest. A small number of U.S. forces have carried out a brief site examination at the airbase. But, they did not remain there.

Officials say the recapture of Qayyarah showed the increasing military sophistication of Iraqi forces.

At the same time, two Iraqi Kurd military teams are completing the encirclement of Mosul from the north. The U.S. provided equipment and some money to the teams.

During Defense Secretary Carter’s last trip to Iraq, he announced that the U.S. will provide $415 million in financial aid to Kurdish forces. The Kurdish economy had been damaged by the worldwide drop in oil prices. Carter said the aid would go through Iraq’s government.

A top defense official confirmed the U.S. has completed its early goal of training 12 military brigades for the Mosul offensive. Commanders say that is the number needed for the battle.

US looking to do more

U.S. officials say additional training might be needed for those groups. In the fight for Ramadi, for example, many improvised explosive devices or IEDs were being used against anti-IS fighters. U.S. forces specially trained soldiers how to deal with IED threats.

Police training also might be needed to help secure the city once Islamic State has been ousted.

Carter said he will talk with Abadi about many tools and techniques that have proven effective against the enemy. These include air support, equipment, supplies and help with planning.

He said the U.S. will “provide more if and when the Iraqi Security Forces can make good use of them, and Prime Minister Abadi requests them.”

Last week, President Obama announced his decision to keep 8,400 U.S. troops in Afghanistan through the end of his presidency. The Obama administration had earlier announced it would keep only 5,500 troops through the end of the year. Obama said last week that “the Taliban remains a threat.”

I’m Ashley Thompson.

VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reported this story from Baghdad. Caty Weaver adapted it for Learning English. ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Ashley Thompson was the editor.

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Words in This Story

staging - n. temporary area

severe - v. to separate, cut or remove

sophistication - n. showing experience, highly developed

improvised explosive device - n. bomb built in ways other than conventional military, usually used as roadside bomb.

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