US to send 450 more troops to Iraq
US President Barack Obama has announced the deployment of an additional 450 troops to Iraq in the "next six to eight weeks" to help Baghdad fight the Islamic State group on its soil.
The announcement comes a year since IS launched a sweeping offensive that overran much of Iraq's Sunni Arab heartland - and Baghdad is still struggling to push the militants back.
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IS has been driven out of some areas north and south of Baghdad but still holds much of western Iraq, including most of Anbar, where Amriyat al-Fallujah is located.
The expanded military campaign will set up a new base in Anbar province to advise Iraqi forces on how to plan and organise operations and help them reach out to Sunni tribes and bring them into the battle.
A fifth training site will be set up in al-Taqaddum, a desert air base that was a US military hub during the 2003-2011 war.
The site will be dedicated to helping the Iraqi army integrate Sunni tribes into the fight, an element seen as a crucial to driving the Islamic State group from the Sunni-majority areas of western Iraq.
The Sunni-Shia divide has been at the heart of the Islamic State group's successes in Iraq. Officials blamed the Iraqi government for last year's collapse of the military in the face of the IS onslaught, with many Sunnis in the armed forces dropping their weapons and fleeing, unwilling to fight for the Shia-led government.
Obama's latest effort will also include expediting the delivery of US equipment and arms to Iraq, including directly to troops at al-Taqaddum, under the authority of the government in Baghdad.
Washington is insistent that US troops will not have a combat role, but may venture out of the base in order to help identify and recruit Sunni tribes.
About a quarter of the new troops will be advisers, and the remainder will handle security, logistics and other administrative tasks, the Pentagon has said.
A deployment of 500 advisers and trainers was initially being considered by administration officials to support Sunni tribal forces as well as to identify, recruit and train fresh troops, with some sources speculating that the number could double depending on the demand.
There are currently slightly fewer than 3,100 US troops in Iraq, including trainers, advisers, security and other logistical personnel.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Martin Dempsey, said the president had to consider a number of questions, including what adjustments to US military activities in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world might be needed if the US does more in Iraq.
Obama this week lamented that the US lacks a "complete strategy" for defeating the Islamic State group, and officials pointed to a glaring lack of recruits among Sunnis.
The White House insisted on Wednesday that the plan was not a change in US strategy, but instead said it addresses that Sunni recruitment failure.
But some local citizens in Sunni-majority areas in Iraq still fear an invasion and reprisals from Iran-backed Shia militia even more than domination by the Islamic State group.
Iraqi leaders in the Shia-led government, meanwhile, have been slow to recruit Sunni tribesmen, fearing that the fighters, once armed, could turn against them.