Obama Doubles US Force in Iraq to Fight ISIS; Up to 1,500 Troops to Be Sent

Barack Obama
Military personnel listen as President Barack Obama speaks. |

President Obama authorized Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Friday to send 1,500 more troops to Iraq to train and assist Iraqi forces in fighting Islamic State, or ISIS, militants, as was requested by Iraq's government.

Hagel was authorized "to deploy to Iraq up to 1,500 additional U.S. personnel over the coming months, in a non-combat role, to expand our advise and assist mission and initiate a comprehensive training effort for Iraqi forces," The Pentagon said in a statement Friday.

There are currently 1,400 troops in Iraq.

The announcement comes even as a U.S.-led coalition continues to target ISIS positions with airstrikes in Iraq and Syria.

ISIS, an al-Qaeda offshoot also known as ISIL, has gained control of large swathes of territories in the two countries, and seeks to form an Islamic emirate in the Levant region through "jihad."

U.S. Central Command will establish two expeditionary advise and assist operations centers, in locations outside of Baghdad and Erbil, to provide support for the Iraqis at the brigade headquarters level and above, Pentagon press secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said in the statement.

The troops will also establish several sites across Iraq that will accommodate the training of 12 Iraqi brigades, specifically nine Iraqi army and three Peshmerga brigades, it stated.

"These sites will be located in northern, western, and southern Iraq. Coalition partners will join U.S. personnel at these locations to help build Iraqi capacity and capability. The training will be funded through the request for an Iraq Train and Equip Fund that the administration will submit to Congress as well as from the Government of Iraq."

ISIS is seen as the most brutal jihadist terror group.

U.S. journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning, who have been beheaded by ISIS militants, were subjected to severe physical torture, including waterboarding, and a majority of them converted to Islam under duress, according to reports.

The United States hopes that the training and assistance will enable Iraq to "better defend its citizens, its borders, and its interests against the threat of ISIL."

Obama is asking Congress for more than $5 billion to help fund the fight.

U.S. officials spoke to reporters after the Friday's announcement, saying the increase in the number of troops does not suggest an expansion of U.S. objectives in Iraq and Syria.

"The reason I would take issue with the notion that this is mission creep is that the mission is not changing at all for our service members," The Washington Post quoted a senior U.S. official as saying. "Iraqis are the ones who are fighting on the ground and fighting in combat."

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