Washington, Jun 10 – President Barack Obama appears poised to approve the deployment of hundreds more US training personnel to Iraq, in a bid to reverse gains by the Islamic State group.
Officials said Obama is considering authorizing an increase of under 500 troops to boost the capacity of the Iraqi army and Sunni tribal fighters.
“We are considering a range of options to accelerate the training and equipping of Iraqi security forces,” National Security Council spokesman Alistair Baskey told AFP.
“Those options include sending additional trainers to Iraq.”
Recent Islamic State victories in Ramadi in Iraq and Syria’s Palmyra have thrown into doubt Obama’s strategy of depending on US airpower and Iraqi ground forces to win the war.
But in response, the Pentagon has drawn up plans to augment an existing mission rather than forge a new approach.
“We’ve determined it is better to train more Iraqi security forces,” Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steven Warren said.
“Because the forces we’ve trained are performing better than expected, we feel it’s in everyone’s interest to train more.”
The current US mission comprises roughly 3,000 advisers and trainers.
A larger deployment could mean increasing the number of training sites from the four currently being used, one official said.
The training effort would carry “a particular emphasis on the Sunnis,” the official added.
Until now, Baghdad has overseen the training of Sunni tribal fighters, who are likely to be key to victory in Ramadi and the surrounding Anbar province.
Now, the Obama administration is looking at American troops directly training those Sunni volunteers.
Weapons deliveries, however, would continue to flow through the Iraqi central government.
Iraq’s Sunni Muslim community has yet to join the fight against the self-proclaimed Islamic State in large numbers.
Among Sunnis there is lingering distrust of the Shiite-led government in Baghdad, which IS fighters have sought to exploit.
– No talk of spotters –