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US to Announce Plan to Send Military Trainers to Iraq

by Michael Bowman June 10, 2015

The United States appeared set Wednesday to send about 400 additional military trainers to Iraq in a new effort to bolster Iraqi troops as they try to retake Ramadi, the Anbar provincial capital seized last month by Islamic State insurgents.

The extra trainers would augment the 3,100 the U.S. already has in Iraq, but U.S. President Barack Obama is continuing to rule out sending ground troops back into Iraq after withdrawing them in 2011.

The U.S. would reportedly open a new training site at al-Taqqadum, a desert air base that once served an American military hub. A White House announcement on the matter was expected Wednesday afternoon.

The president acknowledged earlier this week that even after launching 4,400 aerial attacks against Islamic State positions in Iraq and Syria since September, the U.S. has not developed a 'complete strategy' with the Iraqi government to train more of Baghdad's troops, especially Sunni tribesmen seen as key to retaking Ramadi.

Unclear on Iraq recruits

The U.S. in the past year has trained about 9,000 Iraqi troops, but it is unclear how many more recruits Iraq will be able to supply.

With the Islamic State group's takeover of Iraq's second city, Mosul, a year ago, and now Ramadi, criticism of Obama's aerial-only bombardment of the militants has grown louder in Washington.

Democratic Senator Robert Menendez said reworking America's strategy in Iraq is overdue.

'Obviously, our present strategy isn't working. The key issue for me has always been: if we believe that ISIL is a national security threat, then you have to deal with the threat,' Menendez said.

He added that having better-trained Iraqi troops fighting the Islamic State group would be "desirable."

By contrast, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham criticized Obama's entire Iraq strategy as a "duct-tape approach.'

'This is just adding capacity to a strategy that will never work. President Obama is fundamentally off track here. Five hundred (additional U.S. trainers) are too few to make a difference,' said Graham, a 2016 Republican presidential candidate.

Graham advocated sending a small contingent of U.S. combat forces to Iraq, an option Obama has ruled out.

Political surveys in the U.S. show little public support for sending U.S. ground fighters back to Iraq.

'Range of options'

Iraqi security forces supported by militias have been trying to reclaim areas near Ramadi since it fell to the militants.

National Security Council spokesman Alistair Baskey did not give details Tuesday about the expected increase in the number of trainers in Iraq, saying only that the White House is 'considering a range of options.'

Obama said Monday that Iraqi troops who have undergone U.S. training have been effective, and that Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi agrees on the need for more security forces who are 'trained, fresh, well-equipped and focused.'

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Tuesday there is evidence the combined strategy of a U.S.-led aerial campaign and training Iraqi ground forces can work.

'There have been areas where we have seen the Iraqi security forces, when backed with the support of our military coalition, not just demonstrate a will to fight but actually demonstrate some effectiveness when fighting,' Earnest said.

'And that has succeeded in driving ISIL (Islamic State) out of areas like Tikrit and Haditha, even some areas in Anbar like Baghdadi. That is an indication that there is a strategy, there is a template for success here,' Earnest added.

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