The United States will send 217 more troops, including additional special operations forces, and a number of Apache helicopters to Iraq as part of a growing train-and-advise effort to help the struggling government fight ISIS, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Monday morning in Baghdad.
The Apache helicopters are considered a substantial asset for any attack on Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city.
Carter made the announcement on Monday during a visit to Baghdad during which he met U.S. commanders, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, and Iraqi Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi.
The announcement marks the first major increase in US forces for nearly a year, raising the number of U.S. troops in Iraq to about 4,100.
The Pentagon will also provide up to $415 million to Kurdish peshmerga military units.
Carter did not meet Kurdish leaders in person during his visit, but spoke with the president of the Kurdish region, Massoud Barzani, on the telephone.
Monday’s announcement is the move in the past several months by the United States to ramp up its campaign against the ultra-radical group. U.S. special forces are also deployed in Iraq and Syria as part of the campaign.
President Barack Obama pledged to increase the authorized troop level in Iraq from 3,870 to 4,087.
Last June, the president said he would send hundreds of military personnel to train Iraqi troops in Anbar province, where it had been losing ground to ISIS, adding to the 3,000 Americans already on the ground in advisory and training roles.
Since then, American troops, namely special operations units, have engaged in several anti-ISIS operations.
Also, Iraqi forces – trained by the U.S. military and backed by air strikes from a U.S.-led coalition – have since December managed to take back territory from ISIS, which captured swathes of Iraqi and Syrian territory in 2014.
The new U.S. troops will consist of advisers, trainers, aviation support crew, and security forces. Most of the new military advisers are expected to be army special forces, as is the case with the approximately 100 advisers now in Iraq.
The advisers will be allowed to accompany smaller Iraqi units of about 2,500 troops that are closer to the frontlines of battle, whereas now they are limited to larger divisions of about 10,000 troops located further from the battlefield.
That will allow the U.S. military to offer quicker and more nimble advice to Iraqi troops as they try to retake Mosul, which is still under ISIS control.
But by placing them closer to the conflict, it could leave them more vulnerable to enemy mortars and artillery.
The United States has also authorized the use of Apache attack helicopters to support Iraqi forces in retaking Mosul, Carter said. The United States had originally offered the Apaches to the Iraqi government in December. The Iraqis did not take up the offer then but did not rule out their use.
The United States will also deploy an additional long-range rocket artillery unit to support Iraqi ground forces in the battle for Mosul, Carter said. There are two such batteries already in place in Iraq.
Carter said the Mosul effort will bring U.S. troops “closer to the action” by remaining close to Iraqi forces as they advance toward the city.