About 400 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) soldiers will deploy from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, to Iraq this summer to bolster Iraqi Security Forces at a northern base called a "springboard” for the planned offensive to retake Mosul from ISIS.
The soldiers from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team will join another 1,300 soldiers from the same unit who deployed to Iraq in the spring, the Army said in a statement last Friday.
"We call these soldiers the Strike Ready Force. They have remained prepared to deploy and join the team in Iraq at a moment's notice," said Lt. Col. Eric Lopez, 2nd Brigade Combat Team provisional brigade commander. "These soldiers are trained and ready to join the fight."
The Fort Campbell soldiers are deploying as part of an additional 560 troops for Iraq approved by President Obama to bring the authorized number, or Force Management Level, to 4,657.
The exact number of U.S. troops in Iraq at any given time varies due to rotations and troops sent there on special assignments.
In a briefing to the Pentagon last week, Army Col. Chris Garver, a spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, said that none of the 560 additional troops authorized by the president has arrived in Iraq yet.
Once the 560 arrive, the plan is to send them to an airfield about 40 miles southeast of Mosul called Qayyarah West, or Q-West by the military, which ISF recently retook from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, supported by numerous coalition airstrikes, Garver said.
At Q-West, ISF forces "are now preparing for the next big fight, which as we know is … going to be on the way to Mosul,” Garver said. As for the 560 U.S. troops slated for Q-West, "we're going to bring them in in stages and not take them directly to Q-West from somewhere in the United States."
"What they're going to do is, when they get in there, they're going to start -- first, you've got to fix up the base so that the Iraqis can live there," Garver said, likening the support role to what U.S. troops did in helping the Iraqis set up a base at Makhmur, south of Q-West.
"We built basically … [a] llife support area for the Iraqi forces that were going to live there. You gravel, you put in tents, you put in places for them to eat, use the facilities, those sorts of things. ... You're going to build in where you're going to store your ammunition. You've got to build in your force protection piece of that," Garver said.
Army Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland, the commander of CJTF-OIR who will soon be replaced by Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of the XVIII Corps at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, told reporters last month that the forces deploying to Q-West would include an airfield operations team, logistics and communications specialists, command and control elements, and a security detachment, Stars & Stripes reported.
The 400 2nd BCT soldiers deploying to Iraq will come under the command of Army Maj. Gen. Gary Volesky, commander of the 101st Airborne and of CJTF's Land Component Command.
In a virtual town hall to Fort Campbell last month, Volesky gave an upbeat assessment of the progress in the campaign against ISIS. He said that ISIS "has lost anywhere from 45 to 50 percent of the terrain they claimed in 2014. They lose more terrain every single day.”
"That is why they are going to these attacks in Brussels, Paris, California," Volesky said. "They are trying to export it to keep people's attention off of what they are losing here in Iraq."
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.