The deployment of 450 more troops to a new site in Anbar province that could serve as the prototype for other bases northward towards Mosul should not be seen as “mission creep” in Iraq, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said Friday.
Odierno said that the White House announcement of the deployment Wednesday was "an expansion of the current policy of attempting to train additional Iraqi forces” to push back the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which recently took Ramadi, the provincial capital of Anbar.
“I don't think it's mission creep," Odierno said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" program, but was rather a continuation of the existing strategy that has focused on enabling the Iraqis to take the fight to ISIS.
The term mission creep came into use in the Vietnam War as a flip way of referring to the rapid expansion of the U.S. presence, from a few hundred advisors under President John F. Kennedy to more than 500,000 under President Lyndon B. Johnson.
On Thursday, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey said that the 450 troops going to the Iraqi military base at Taqaddum in Anbar could be the first “lily pad” in a number of lily pads that would allow U.S. troops to work closely with Iraqi army units on planning and tactics.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest described the plans for more bases as "all very hypothetical,” but Odierno, who will retire in the fall, said that “By putting more bases out, they're trying to reach out to the Sunnis, frankly.”
“What's happened inside of Iraq is you have a Shia army. You have a Kurdish army in the north, you have no Sunnis participating,” Odierno said.
“And that's the fundamental problem. And so, what they're trying to do is let's get people closer to them, get them in to train them, make them part of the army.”
At the Pentagon Friday, U.S. Central Command spokesman Col. Pat Ryder said there were “no immediate plans to set up additional sites” beyond the Taqaddum base, but the overall plan “could include additional venues going forward.”
The U.S. currently has four “BPC” sites – for Building Partner Capacity – at al-Asad further west in Anbar province, Besmaya south of Baghdad, Taji north of Baghdad, and at Irbil, capital of the northern Kurdish sector. The BPC sites essentially provide basic training for Iraqi recruits in six-week courses.
Ryder confirmed that the BPC site at al-Asad, where about 300 Marines are based, has not been conducting training for the past several weeks for lack of recruits being sent to the base by the Iraqis. The absence of recruits was first reported by the Hill newspaper.
Ryder said of al-Asad that “we expect some Iraqis to come through there soon.”
Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@military.com