On Monday Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter said that the Pentagon will send 560 U.S. troops to Iraq, expanding the U.S. military campaign against the Islamic State after Iraqi forces seized a key airfield over the weekend.
Army Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, explained that the additional troops will be assigned to the newly recaptured air base. Recapturing Qayyarah Air Base is an important step in retaking the city of Mosul, considered to be the capital of the Islamic State in Iraq
This decision increases the number of US. Troops the Pentagon counts in Iraq to 4,647, however, the number is most likely closer to 6,000 because of American troops who deploy on temporary assignments not included in the Pentagon’s official tally.
Carter reported that the airfield seizure is meant to create a “pincer” effect, putting Mosul between Iraqi security forces pushing from the south and Kurdish forces advancing from the north. Qayyarah Air Base has become another point of power for the United States. It includes at least one runway long enough to fly heavy cargo planes and helicopters.
A senior Iraqi army commander, who requested anonymity, said the advance began Saturday morning and Iraqi forces controlled the area by midday. There was “not much” resistance from the Islamic State because the U.S.-led coalition launched airstrikes as well as fire support from U.S. rockets.
“Qayyarah was certainly the big fish because of its strategic importance.”