The U.S. military will send Apache attack helicopters and additional troops to assist the Iraq army in the fight for Mosul, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced Monday.
The additional forces are being deployed "to make sure the defeat of [the Islamic State] is lasting," Carter said during a visit with U.S. troops at Baghdad's International Airport.
The additional troops, which will total 217, will include advisers, force protection and aviation support for the Apaches, said a senior defense official, who brief reporters prior to Cater's announcement.
Most of the advisers are expected to be Special Forces soldiers who will embed at the brigade and battalion levels to provide tactical guidance as the Iraqi army's 15th Division advances toward Mosul. The advisers, previously at the division level, will now move into smaller units. That means they will be serving closer to the front lines.
The additional U.S. military support announced Monday is intended to help accelerate Iraq's fight for Mosul, a senior defense official told reporters traveling with Carter. There are about 5,000 Islamic State fighters in Mosul, said Col. Steve Warren, the Baghdad-based spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve. The terrorist group captured Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, in summer 2014 and uses it as its de facto headquarters.
The additional forces will bring the force level of U.S. troops in Iraq to 4,087, a U.S. official said. That total does not include an estimated 1,000 additional U.S. troops who are in the country but are not part of the Pentagon's official count, including special operations forces, some logisticians, troops on temporary duty and forces who are rotating in to replace departing forces.
About 5,000 troops from the Iraqi army's 15th Division are operating in the 70-mile swath between Makhmour, Iraq and Mosul, as Iraqis work with U.S. Marines to clear villages south of Mosul. The Marines are operating out of a fire base near Makhmour and providing artillery support to the Iraqis. The base has already come under attack by the Islamic State, resulting in the death of Staff Sgt. Louis Cardin and injuries to eight other Marines.
As the Iraqi forces and their U.S. advisers advance, the Apaches could be used for overhead cover and to react quickly to observed threats.
Carter also announced that the U.S. would bring in additional High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems to provide fire support to the Iraqi army to help clear villages south of Mosul in preparation for the future fight to retake the city.
Carter arrived Monday in Baghdad to meet with U.S. military and Iraqi political leaders, including Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland, the U.S. commander of the coalition campaign against the Islamic State; Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadil; and Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi. He also held a conference call with Massoud Barzani, the president of Kurdistan.
It was Carter's third trip to Baghdad since he became defense secretary. It took place just days before President Barack Obama's scheduled arrival in Saudi Arabia to discuss what additional military, political and economic support the U.S. and it's Gulf Cooperation Council Arab allies can provide Iraq.
Iraq is struggling under low oil prices and a political crisis that threatens to weaken its army's advance to retake Mosul.
While Carter did not meet with Barzani, he announced that the U.S. would provide $415 million to help support "selected peshmerga units." He didn't elaborate on that plan.