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WASHINGTON – The Pentagon could request an additional 500 U.S. troops be sent to Iraq to assist in the fight to defeat the Islamic State group in Mosul, a senior defense official confirmed to Stars and Stripes.

The additional troops, first reported by The Wall Street Journal, would increase the number of U.S. forces in Iraq to more than 5,000, the highest number of American troops sent there since 2011.

The forces “would be phased in as the Iraqis get closer and closer to Mosul,” said a senior defense official at the Pentagon who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, confirmed this week that the Iraqis will be ready to begin the battle to retake Mosul from the Islamic State group in October.

The number of U.S. troops authorized now to be deployed to Iraq is 4,647. The new request would bring the total to 5,147. However, the count does not include forces on temporary assignment in the country. The Pentagon will not release a figure on how many temporary forces are in Iraq.

The U.S. mission in Iraq has steadily grown since President Barack Obama directed the first 275 troops to deploy to Baghdad to protect U.S. personnel in June 2014 after the Islamic State group made significant territorial gains across northern Iraq. In August 2014, the White House announced U.S. warplanes had begun to conduct airstrikes against the terrorist group. In November 2014, Obama announced another 1,500 U.S. troops would be sent to Iraq to help train the Iraqi army and better prepare it to repel the Islamic State group.

In the last two years, additional U.S. forces have been requested to support a growing train, advise and assist mission in Iraq. Since December 2015, a retrained and re-equipped Iraqi army, with assistance from U.S. airstrikes and U.S. special operations forces on the ground, has been able to retake much of the territory captured by the Islamic State group. At least two major battles against the terrorist organization remain – the recapture of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqah in Syria. Both cities have become headquarters for the Islamic State group in those countries.

copp.tara@stripes.com Twitter: @TaraCopp


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