During his visit to Baghdad on Monday, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced that the United States will deploy an additional 560 troops to Iraq to aid in the fight against ISIS. Iraqi forces, in conjunction with the U.S. Army, have been slowly pushing back against ISIS forces and recovering lost land.
Late last month, Iraqi and U.S. forces were finally able to dislodge ISIS militants from Fallujah, a major stronghold that was only an hour's drive from Iraq’s capital. The IHS reports that in the first six months of this year, ISIS has lost 12 percent of their territory. Despite those loses, ISIS still controls a little more than 26,000 square miles in northwest Iraq and Syria, an area about the size of West Virginia.
Iraqi forces are doing their best to keep the ISIS controlled area shrinking. On Saturday, they were able to retake the Qayyarah West airfield, one of the biggest air bases in Iraq. It is also only 40 miles south of Mosul, the last urban bastion for ISIS and the second largest city in Iraq, making it a key strategic position in retaking the city. Mosul first fell to ISIS back in 2014.
The soon-to-be-deployed American troops will be stationed at the Qayyarah West airfield, and will include engineers and logistic experts. Their reported goal is to help the local forces retake Mosul.
“The point of seizing [the Qayyarah] airfield is to be able to establish a logistics and air hub in the immediate vicinity of Mosul,” reported Carter. “So there will be U.S. logistics support.”
Some speculate the troops have been sent to help train Iraqi troops to use highly technical bridging techniques to get across the river into Mosul.
The Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has reportedly pledged to retake Mosul for ISIS militants by the year's end. If Mosul is retaken by Iraqi forces, that would be a huge blow on ISIS and would deprive them of their largest city in either Iraq or Syria.
This now brings the official number of U.S. troops in Iraq up to 4,647, but that doesn't include commandos or service members who remain in the country for less than four months. The actual troop number is estimated to be around 5,000 American troops.