Two days after President Obama said he doesn’t have a “complete strategy” for training Iraqi forces in their fight against the Islamic State, the administration announced that it’s sending 450 U.S. troops to Iraq to train those forces.
The White House said Wednesday it will deploy troops and equipment to Iraq “to train, advise, and assist” Iraqi forces at Taqaddum military base in eastern Anbar province. Officials said these troops will not have a combat role. The deployment brings the total of American troops on the ground in Iraq to 3,550. Obama made the decision after a request for help from Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi, the White House said in a statement.
“The president and his team are confident that for now 450 troops are what is necessary,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest said, adding that the president will “continually evaluate the strategy.”
The announcement comes after Islamic State militants took over the Iraqi city of Ramadi on Sunday. No Iraqi security forces remain there. Earnest said Wednesday that officials were considering this latest deployment before Islamic State fighters overran Ramadi.
An American-led coalition of nations has carried out thousands of air strikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria since August. In April, the coalition increased bombing raids in the Ramadi area after Iraqi officials withdrew Shiite militias there who were fighting against the terrorist group.
“What we’ve determined is that the counter-ISIL campaign works best when we have a capable partner we are supporting on the ground,” White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters Wednesday, using a different name to refer to the group.
The Defense Department said in a statement that the decision “does not represent a change in mission, but rather adds another location for [the department] to conduct similar activities in more areas in Iraq.”
Troops are expected to arrive as early as this summer, according to a New York Times report.
Reporters had many questions for Earnest during Wednesday’s press briefing on the announcement. But one reporter wanted to know about other, less pressing presidential news: this photograph, taken during the G-7 summit in Germany, of the president holding something in his hands that looks a lot like a box of cigarettes. Obama used to smoke cigarettes, and has said he uses Nicorette. Earnest said Wednesday that the president was not holding cigarettes in that photo, though Earnest hadn’t asked Obama about it himself.