Washington: The United States is ready to send around 600 troops to Iraq to train local forces for an upcoming offensive on the Islamic State group stronghold of Mosul, US officials said today.
IS seized Mosul along with other areas in June 2014, but the country's forces have since regained significant ground from the jihadists and are readying for a drive to retake Iraq's second city.
Speaking on condition of anonymity ahead of a formal announcement, the officials said the troops would mainly be deployed to Qayyarah, a strategically vital air base south of Mosul that will help funnel supplies and troops toward the city.
US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter was due to make an announcement later today while on a work trip to Albuquerque, New Mexico.
"In consultation with the government of Iraq, the United States is prepared to provide additional US military personnel to train and advise the Iraqis as the planning for the Mosul campaign intensifies," another US official said, again speaking on condition of anonymity.
A US-led coalition is carrying out air strikes against IS in Iraq, and Washington has authorized the deployment of more than 4,600 military personnel to the country.
Most are in advisory or training roles, working with Iraqi and Kurdish peshmerga forces, but some American troops have fought IS on the ground, and three members of the US military have been killed by the jihadists in Iraq.
Earlier today, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's office indicated it has requested "a final increase in the number of American trainers and advisers" to support Iraqi troops in the northern city.
The statement from Abadi's office noted that American forces are helping Iraq in its battle against the jihadists, but their presence remains extremely politically sensitive due to the nine-year war the United States fought in the country.
The statement said the number of trainers and advisers would start to be reduced as soon as Mosul is retaken from IS, and also asserted that no American troops had fought alongside Iraqi troops.
In reality, American special forces have fought IS alongside Iraqi Kurdish forces on several occasions that have been made public, and likely in other operations that have not come to light.
Speaking in New Mexico yesterday, Carter said he expected the Mosul offensive to begin in the coming weeks, but stressed the decision was an Iraqi one.
"The plan is quite elaborate," he said. "All of this is under the command of Prime Minister Abadi."