The U.S. will deploy "certainly hundreds" more troops to Iraq to train additional brigades which Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has pledged will take back Mosul from ISIS this year, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad said Wednesday.
The extra troops will inevitably boost the costs of the campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria that totaled $5.53 billion through Dec. 15, or about $11 million daily, said Army Col. Steve Warren, a spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve.
Most of the costs have been incurred by the air campaign. Warren said the U.S. and coalition allies have flown 65,492 sorties to date, including 9,782 airstrikes. A total of 6,516 of those airstrikes were in Iraq, and 3,266 in Syria, he said.
Warren said that the new deployment of trainers will be in addition to the 1,300 soldiers from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 101st Airborne Division out of Fort Campbell, Kentucky, who will deploy to Iraq this spring to replace the 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 10th Mountain Division in the training role. The 1st BCT will return to Fort Drum, N.Y.
"The reason we need new trainers, or additional trainers, is that's really the next step to generate the combat power needed to liberate Mosul," Warren said. "We need more (Iraqi) troops trained in more specialties," such as commandos and snipers, to mount a push north from Baiji up the Tigris River valley to attack Mosul, he said.
"We don't have a solid number yet" on how many new trainers will deploy to join the estimated 3,550 U.S. troops now on the ground in the campaign against ISIS, Warren said. "It's certainly hundreds -- that will probably be at the top end – not thousands, hundreds," but additional U.S. support troops may also be needed for the Mosul buildup, he said.
The number of new U.S. troops will also be conditional on the number of additional trainers U.S. allies were willing to provide, Warren said.
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter met in Paris Wednesday with NATO and allied defense ministers to gauge their willingness to contribute more troops and step up the campaign against ISIS.
The meeting included Australian Minister for Defense Marise Payne; French Minister of Defense Jean-Yves Le Drian; German Minister of Defense Ursula von der Leyen; Italian Minister of Defense Roberta Pinotti, Dutch Minister of Defense Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, and British Secretary of State for Defense Michael Fallon.
In a joint statement after the meeting, the ministers agreed "to accelerate and intensify the campaign against ISIL/DAESH (two other acronyms for ISIS) in order to deliver a lasting defeat to this barbaric organization."
In a video briefing from Baghad to the Pentagon, Warren said that the successful effort to isolate and retake Ramadi in coordination with coalition airstrikes would serve as the template for the Mosul campaign.
However, Ramadi was a city of about 300,000 before it fell to ISIS, and a much larger force will be needed for Mosul, which is Iraq's second largest city after Baghdad with an estimated population of two million.
Warren said that two Iraqi brigades spearheaded by the elite Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) troops led the main assault to take Ramadi's city center, and about eight brigades would be needed for a similar effort in Mosul.
Warren also cautioned that taking a city does not end the fight. He said that clearing operations in Ramadi were still encountering sporadic counter-attacks and that Iraqi forces were involved in a "slow and painstaking process." He declined to put a timeline on when Ramadi would be completely secured.
The removal of improvised explosive devices was a major obstacle for Iraqi forces, he said. "They've literally found thousands of booby-traps, buried explosives, houses rigged to explode with a single trip-wire," Warren said.
The problems encountered in retaking Ramadi should add a note of caution to predictions of taking Mosul this year, Sen. Jack Reed, R-R.I., the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told reporters at a roundtable session last week after returning from meetings with U.S. military leaders in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa.
Reed said that taking back Mosul could be "months and months away." He said that Kurdish Peshmerga forces had largely succeeded in ongoing efforts to isolate Mosul to the north, east and west, and now awaited a push from the south by the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF).
U.S. airstrikes were increasingly beginning to focus on Mosul to aid the isolation effort, Warren said. Since Jan. 13, the U.S. has carried out 47 airstrikes in and around Mosul, including one Monday that hit a building serving as a "cash collection point" for ISIS.
The strike Monday was the ninth on an ISIS cash center in both Iraq and Syria. Warren said the U.S. estimated the strikes have deprived ISIS of "tens of millions" of dollars and he noted news reports that ISIS has been forced to cut pay by half for its fighters.
"This is really putting the squeeze on them, hitting them in the pocketbook," Warren said, but the strikes have also caused civilian casualties.
The U.S. has made the avoidance of civilian casualties a hallmark of the campaign against ISIS but "Yes, we were prepared to accept civilian casualties in conjunction with the cash strikes," Warren said. He estimated the number of civilian casualties in the nine cash strikes as "in the single digits."
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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