WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama has authorized Defense Secretary Ash Carter to provide a modest increase in additional U.S. personnel to be deployed to Iraq in a noncombat role, Defense Department officials announced today.
Officials said Obama has authorized up to 450 additional U.S. personnel to deploy to Iraq to expand the U.S. advise-and-assist mission at Taqaddum Air Base in support of the Iraqi government.
Planning, Integration, Support Role
The intent is to provide personnel to assist with planning, integration and support of Iraqi security forces and tribal forces as they fight to retake the Ramadi and Fallujah corridor, officials said.
Speaking to Pentagon reporters, DoD spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren said the presence at Taqaddum Air Base will serve two purposes: to provide immediate advice and assistance to the 8th Iraqi Army Division and to begin to facilitate the connections between Anbar province's Sunni tribes and the Iraqi government and military.
Facilitating these connections will have two "downstream effects," Warren said.
"We believe it will motivate additional Sunni personnel to simply join the Iraqi security forces," he said. "No. 2, we believe it will help us identify Sunni militia tribal elements that, when all the conditions are right, we will be able to train."
No Change in Mission
This decision does not represent a change in mission, officials said. Rather, they explained, it adds another location for the Defense Department to conduct similar activities in more areas in Iraq as U.S. forces continue to perform in an advisory, training and supporting role. U.S. forces are not conducting offensive ground combat operations, they added.
The additional site will result in an increase in DoD force levels to up to 3,550 personnel, officials said.
Warren told reporters that advise-and-assist operations will begin in the next two months, and that of the roughly 450 personnel heading to Taqaddum, some already are in Iraq and will simply be repositioned, while others will come from outside of Iraq.
Not Another Building Partner Capacity Site
For the time being, Warren emphasized, Taqaddum Air Base will not be used as another Building Partner Capacity site.
"What's important to note," he said, "is these personnel that we're sending into al-Taqaddum are not establishing what we are a little more familiar with, and what we've seen in Besmayah, in al-Asad, in Irbil, which are these Building Partner Capacity training sites."
Those sites essentially are basic training, Warren explained, where U.S. advisors teach Iraqi soldiers basic combat tasks, such as weapons qualification.
At Taqaddum Air Base, the colonel said, advisors will work with the 8th Iraqi Army Division, advising them on matters such as deploying their troops, improving their logistic systems, increasing their intelligence capabilities and managing their administrative processes.
Path to Defeat ISIL
Ultimately, DoD officials said, these Iraqi forces will enable Iraq to better defend its citizens and retake its territory from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
This effort is in keeping with the U.S. overarching strategy to work with partners on the ground to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL, officials said.