BAGHDAD – U.S. President Barack Obama says he expects that by the end of the year conditions will be in place for Iraqi troops to eventually recapture the northern city of Mosul from Islamic State militants.
In a CBS News interview aired Monday, Obama stressed the need to support the Iraqi forces who are doing the ground fighting.
“We’re not doing the fighting ourselves, but when we provide training, when we provide special forces who are backing them up … when we are gaining intelligence, working with the coalitions we have, what we’ve seen is that we can continually tighten the noose,” said Obama.
Earlier Monday, during a visit to Baghdad, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced the U.S. is providing more than 200 additional troops and several Apache attack helicopters to assist Iraqi forces in retaking Mosul.
Carter said the new U.S. troops would be mainly advisers needed to help with the logistics of advancing Iraqi troops further from their bases as they encircle Iraq’s second largest city. He said they would advise at the brigade and battalion headquarters level.
“Everyone knows the fight of Iraq is the fight for Mosul,” a senior U.S. defense official said. “Mosul is the end game in Iraq.”
Iraqi forces began an offensive to retake the IS stronghold on March 24.
A senior defense official says a total of eight Apache attack helicopters will be sent to aid in the battle. U.S. troops are needed to fly and maintain them. Last year, Iraqi officials declined a U.S. offer for Apache helicopters in the battle to retake Ramadi from IS, but the U.S official noted that the fight for Mosul will be even more difficult. The city fell to IS militants in the summer of 2014.
Carter on Monday also announced the United States will increase funding for Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq, with a senior official saying the amount will be about $400 million.
Secretary Carter traveled to Iraq Monday to talk with his commanders and Iraqi leaders about ways the U.S. can ramp up the fight against IS militants in Iraq and Syria.
He met with Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and Minister of Defense Khaled al-Obaidi before speaking by phone with Kurdish President Masoud Barzani.
Carter’s visit was his third to Iraq as secretary of defense.
“The Iraqis are not shy about asking for what they need,” a senior defense official said. “Our generals, our colonels, they are sitting next to the Iraqis.” to
Speaking to reporters in the United Arab Emirates Saturday, Carter expressed confidence the White House will approve recommendations.
“We are looking to do more,” Carter said at Al Dhafra Air Base near Abu Dhabi. “That ranges from in the air to on the ground. You should expect to see us doing more.”
But Carter added that “Our presence on the ground will continue to be to enable, not to substitute for local forces.”
The U.S.-led coalition has used the Al Dhafra Air Base for airstrikes against Islamic State, as well as for intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance missions.
According to some at the Al Dhafra Air Base, the U.S. has already upped its munition power from the air and expects to continue to increase air power over the next six months.
“The F-22 has seen quite an expanded role since we’ve been here,” an F-22 fighter jet operations officer told Carter during his visit to the base Saturday. “The last six months the unit that we just swapped out with, they dropped just over 200 munitions, precision munitions out in the theater. Just this past week, we’ve dropped 20 percent of that, so 40 munitions in just a week.”
In addition to munitions, about a third of the aircraft deployed to this base is dedicated to surveillance over Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.
Carter said the troops at Al Dhafra Air Base played an important role in the fight against Islamic State.
“These people are pretty busy and some of them are in risky situations every single day,” Carter said.
Michael Rubin, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, told VOA the U.S. strategy seemed to be “containing” Islamic State, which continues to lose ground in Iraq and Syria, but worries that needed improvements to the strategy could come “too little, too late.”
“When it comes to the fight against the Islamic State, it’s almost as if we diagnosed with cancer at Stage One and then sat about arguing about whether or not we should prescribe an aspirin for the next four-five years while it metastasized to Stage Four,” Rubin said.
Source: Voice of America