WASHINGTON — Washington is working with Iraqi leaders to hone military operations against Islamic militants and is mulling whether to train Iraqis to directly call in US airstrikes, a US official said Thursday.
During a visit to Washington last week, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi last week urged the Obama administration to speed up bombing missions against the jihadists saying there was a significant time lag between Iraqi forces identifying a target and a subsequent US airstrike.
"The one thing they want is to cut down the time from a request for a strike to a strike," a senior State Department official told reporters.
"Though it's fairly fast, it's not immediate," he acknowledged.
The US-led coalition has carried out about 3,000 airstrikes over Iraq since September in the fight against extremist Islamic State (IS) militants who seized a swath of Iraqi and Syrian territory in a lightning move last June.
While deferring to the Pentagon, the senior State Department official said the administration was looking at how to strengthen coordination with the Iraqis such as training joint terminal attack controllers (JTACs) who designate targets in air operations.
"That might include things ... like training Iraqi JTACs from the Iraqi special forces. We've worked with those guys for many years," the official said.
In its biggest victory to date, Iraqi security forces recaptured the town of Tikrit from IS last month. But it also revealed the complexity of trying to recapture urban areas, where the jihadists have laid booby traps, including huge truck bombs.
Iraqi forces are gearing for an operation to retake Iraq's second city of Mosul, but it "will be incredibly complicated," the US official said.
Between 4,000-6,000 Iraqis, many who fled during the capture of Mosul and now known as the Mosul fighting force, are currently being trained in the Kurdish peshmerga areas of Iraqi Kurdistan for the upcoming battle to retake the city.
Mosul is a major hub for the IS militants and holds special significance as the place where IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed his "caliphate" straddling Iraq and Syria.
Reports emerged this week that Baghdadi may have been wounded in an air strike.
The State Department official could not confirm the reports, but said: "All I would say is that when we put someone on our sights we're eventually going to get him. It's a matter of time."