Monday, Dec 22, 2014

More US troops to Iraq; special forces considered

President Barack Obama speaks on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington. (AP) President Barack Obama speaks on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington. (AP)
By: Associated Press | Washington | Posted: June 17, 2014 9:36 am | Updated: June 25, 2014 2:53 pm

would be in Kuwait, which was a major basing ground for U.S. troops during the Iraq war.

If the U.S. were to deploy an additional team of special forces, the mission would almost certainly be small. One U.S. official said it could be up to 100 special forces soldiers. It also could be authorized only as an advising and training mission _ meaning the soldiers would work closely with Iraqi forces that are fighting the insurgency but would not officially be considered as combat troops.

The White House would not confirm that special operations forces were under consideration. But spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said that while Obama would not send troops back into combat, “he has asked his national security team to prepare a range of other options that could help support Iraqi security forces.”

It’s not clear how quickly the special forces could arrive in Iraq. It’s also unknown whether they would remain in Baghdad or be sent to the nation’s north, where the Sunni Muslim insurgency has captured large swaths of territory collaring Baghdad, the capital of the Shiite-led government.

The troops would fall under the authority of the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad and would not be authorized to engage in combat, another U.S. official said. Their mission would be “non-operational training” of both regular and counter terrorism units, which the military has in the past interpreted to mean training on military bases, the official said.

However, all U.S. troops are allowed to defend themselves in Iraq if they are under attack. The three U.S. officials all spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the plans by name.

Obama made the end of the war in Iraq one of his signature campaign issues, and has touted the U.S. military withdrawal in December 2011 as one of his top foreign policy successes. But he has been caught over the past week between Iraqi officials pleading for help _ as well as Republicans blaming him for the loss of a decade’s worth of gains in Iraq _ and his anti-war Democratic political base, which is demanding that the U.S. stay out of the fight.

While the White House continues to review its options, Iran’s military leaders are starting to step into the beach. The commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force, Gen. Ghasem Soleimani, was in Iraq on Monday and consulting with the government there on how to stave off insurgents’ gains.

Iraqi security officials said the U.S. government was notified in advance of the visit by Soleimani, whose forces are a secretive branch of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard that in the past has organized Shiite militias to target U.S. troops in Iraq and, more recently, was involved in helping Syria’s President Bashar Assad in his fight against Sunni rebels.

In fighting on Monday, the insurgents seized the strategic city of Tal Afar near the Syrian border, and an Iraqi army helicopter was shot down during clashes near the city of Fallujah west of Baghdad, killing the two-man crew, security officials said.

In the short term, the continued…

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