Gen. Dunford to Obama: Expand U.S. military presence in Iraq

Special to

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

The Pentagon will submit a proposal to U.S. President Barack Obama to increase the number of American troops in Iraq, the nation’s highest-ranking military officer said on March 25.

“We have a series of recommendations that we will discuss with the president in the coming weeks to further enable our support for the Iraqi security forces,” said General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, left, and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr. . epa
U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, left, and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr. / epa

“[Defense Secretary Ashton Carter] and I both believe that there will be an increase in U.S. forces in Iraq in coming weeks, but that decision hasn’t been made,” Dunford said.

Carter said options to be presented to the president include sending additional U.S. forces to Iraq, using Apache helicopters for combat missions, deploying more U.S. special operations forces, or using American military advisers in Iraqi units closer to the front lines.

Dunford said the recommendations also will include ways that the United States can help Iraqi forces recapture Mosul, the largest urban center in the Islamic State’s (IS) self-proclaimed “caliphate.” He expects the Mosul offensive to be long and difficult.

The U.S. military this week disclosed for the first time the presence of some 200 Marines and artillery in a small base called Fire Base Bell in northern Iraq. The artillery is used to support Iraqi troops as they advance in the region.

Officially, there are 3,870 U.S. troops deployed in Iraq. But Dunford did not deny media reports that the actual number is likely closer to 5,000.

Strengthening the U.S. military presence in Iraq is a sensitive issue for the Obama administration, which has vowed not to deploy ground forces there.

American troops can become a particularly tempting target for IS attacks, as proved to be the case with Fire Base Bell, which was attacked by IS rocket fire within two weeks of its establishment.

Also, Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias in Iraq strongly oppose additional U.S. deployments to their country.