The United States will deploy an additional 560 troops to Iraq to position American advisers at a newly retaken air base that will serve as a staging platform in the fight to retake Mosul from the Islamic State, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced from Baghdad on Monday.
The soldiers will include engineers and logistics personnel who will work to develop the Qayyarah air base, which is located roughly 40 miles south of the ISIS-held city of Mosul. The additional service members will also assist Iraqi security forces in planning to retake Mosul, the nation’s second largest city.
Carter’s announcement comes three months after Washington said it wound send about 200 additional troops to support Iraqi forces in the Mosul offensive. The new deployment will bring the U.S. troop level in Iraq to 4,647, though that number is likely closer to 6,000 soldiers when counting those on temporary assignments not included in formal military tallies, according to the Washington Post.
"At every step in this campaign, we have generated and seized additional opportunities to hasten ISIL’s lasting defeat," Carter said at Baghdad International Airport, using the Obama administration’s preferred acronym for ISIS. "These additional U.S. forces will bring unique capabilities to the campaign and provide critical enabler support to Iraqi forces at a key moment in the fight."
Carter said that U.S. advisers are prepared to help Iraqi forces retake Mosul from ISIS, although it is unclear when the offensive will occur at this point. A team of American troops arrived Sunday to assess the base, U.S. officials said.
Before arriving in Baghdad, Carter compared taking the Qayyarah air base to when American troops in March established a staging base for artillery in the eastern city of Makhmour to support advancing Iraqi units. Marine Staff Sgt. Louis F. Cardin was killed there in March during an ISIS attack. Carter said the larger Qayyarah base would provide another strategic foothold.
"Iraqi security forces, accompanied and advised by us as needed, will complete the southern-most envelopment of Mosul [from Qayyarah]," Carter said. "That’s its strategic role, and that’s its strategic importance."
Iraqi forces retook the Qayyarrah air base from ISIS on Saturday. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said the advancement brings Iraqi forces closer to retaking Mosul. ISIS captured the city in June 2014.