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US Troops Continue To See Fire in Iraq

January 14, 2015 (Photo Credit: US Army)

WASHINGTON — The 300 US soldiers and Marines at al Asad air base in Iraq's Anbar province continue to see mortar fire directed at their positions, with six more mortar rounds landing on the sprawling complex last week.

A Pentagon spokesman confirmed the incoming fire, but said that the closest rounds landed about a kilometer away, noting that the base is roughly the size of the city of Boulder, Colorado.

The 2,200 US personnel on the ground in Iraq are busily training 12 Iraqi and Kurdish brigades at facilities located at al Asad, Camp Taji just north of Baghdad, and in the Kurdish controlled north in Erbil.

And while about 900 more American troops are slated to flow into Iraq in the coming weeks, the air war is continuing apace. As of Jan. 11, the US and its allies have flown 15,670 sorties over Iraq and Syria, 1,761 of those involved striking targets on the ground, according to numbers provided by the Pentagon.

US Navy and Air Force aircraft have seen the vast amount of action, with 1,431 airstrikes under their belt, 715 of which hit Islamic State targets in Iraq, and 716 in Syria. The overall price tag for Operation Inherent Resolve since airstrikes began on Aug. 8, which also includes the 2,200 US soldiers now stationed in Iraq, is $1.2 billion.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the coalition conducted six more airstrikes in Syria, and 12 in Iraq.

Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren said on Wednesday that most airstrikes are being conducted though "dynamic targeting," which involves US and coalition manned and unmanned aircraft finding targets on the ground and immediately relaying that information to armed aircraft in the vicinity.

While the fight rages on, top American military and civilian officials have been holding meetings with Syrian opposition figures and political leaders in Baghdad.

The American general taking point for training and equipping the moderate Syrian opposition forces, US Army Maj. Gen. Michael Nagata, met with "a broad spectrum of Syrian opposition and civil society leaders in Istanbul, Turkey" on Jan. 12-13, along with US Special Envoy for Syria Daniel Rubinstein, according to a US Central Command statement.

"These meetings provided an important opportunity to introduce and discuss the U.S. train and equip program with members of the moderate political and armed opposition and to gain a better understanding of conditions on the ground in Syria," the statement read.

Meanwhile, the White House's special envoy for the anti-IS fight, retired US Marine Gen. John Allen, and Brett McGurk, deputy assistant secretary for Near Eastern Affairs, were in Baghdad this week to meet with Iraqi leadership.

A statement from Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's office said the alliance should "increase the tempo of the effective air strikes on Islamic State positions," while also calling for an expansion of the training program for Iraqi security forces.

Speaking with Reuters on Jan. 11, Abadi predicted that the US-led training program would take three years, and that "the most difficult thing is to restructure and build the Army while you are in a state of war. … Our aim is to create a balance between both, restructuring the Army in a way that will not impact the fighting."

Email: pmcleary@defensenews.com.

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