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Hundreds of US troops now deployed in Iraq’s Anbar province

In this 2007 file photo, U.S. Marine Corps Corporal Michael L. Haas, a videographer with 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, Forward Combat Camera, documents Marines with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 361 refueling an AH-1W Super Cobra from Marine Light/Attack Helicopter Squadron 773 during an aero scout mission over the Al Anbar province, Iraq, on Dec. 8, 2007.

DOD

By JON HARPER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 18, 2014

WASHINGTON — Hundreds of American troops are now in Iraq’s volatile Anbar province helping the Iraqi military take on the Islamic State, Joint Chiefs of Staff officials said.

Currently, about 350 U.S. troops are stationed at Al Asad Air Base in Anbar. The force is composed of advisers and support personnel who are assisting the Iraqi army, as well as a security contingent tasked with providing force protection.

The troops on the ground are helping the 7th Iraqi Division with developing security strategies, mission planning, information sharing, and coordinating close air support operations.

Servicemembers in Anbar are not fighting alongside Iraqi forces or standing near the front lines calling in airstrikes, officials said.

These people “are not accompanying Iraqi forces into combat,” said Col. Ed Thomas, the chief spokesman for Joint Chiefs chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey.

President Barack Obama has ruled out sending American ground troops back into combat in Iraq, and has limited the military mission to training and equipping Iraqi troops fighting the Islamic State.

On Tuesday, there were media reports that American troops in Anbar had been in a direct fight with militants near Al Asad. Multiple U.S. defense officials said those reports were false.

Last month, military officials revealed that about 50 American special operators had deployed to Al Asad, some 110 miles northwest of Baghdad, in order to lay the groundwork for a new training effort. U.S. troops in Iraq had previously been confined to facilities near Baghdad and Irbil.

The number of advisers in Anbar has increased significantly since then, Thomas said. He did not say how many of the 350 troops now in Anbar are preparing for the training mission, which will take place at four training sites throughout Iraq.

The formal training effort isn’t expected to start until early next year, officials said.

“We are still in the process of flowing in additional troops in the overall effort to Build Partner Capacity, which will enable Iraqi forces by providing training and expertise in military capabilities such as mission command, intelligence, maneuver, and sustainment and medical support,” Joint Staff spokeswoman Army Capt. Catalina Rosales said in an email to Stars and Stripes.

There are currently about 1,700 American troops in Iraq. That number is expected to increase to around 3,000 in the coming months.

harper.jon@stripes.com;Twitter: @JHarperStripes
 

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