WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is laying the groundwork for a greater presence in Iraq, a Pentagon spokesman confirmed, one day after announcing an increase in personnel in the al-Anbar province.
The expansion could feature "several" locations throughout Iraq, including more inside al-Anbar, said Col. Steven Warren, Pentagon spokesman. Asked if the Pentagon was "actively" making plans for new bases within Iraq, Warren concurred.
Thursday morning Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the New York Times on June 11 that the Pentagon was looking at an expansion, referring to the basing structure as "lily pads" from which personnel could work with local fighters to combat the Islamic State, often referred to as ISIS.
On Wednesday, The Obama administration announced June 10 it was upping the presence of troops in country, specifically by placing up to 450 personnel at al-Taqaddum Air Base, a facility located between the al-Anbar province's two major cities — Ramadi and Fallujah.
Those troops are filling a different need than the basic training mission that is ongoing at four other locations in Iraq. Instead, they will fill two missions: to advise at a higher level the Iraqi Army 8th Division, and to interface with local Sunni military forces and try to integrate them into the Iraqi military.
Warren said Thursday June 11 that the vast majority of those personnel at al-Taqaddum — around 400 — would be new troops being moved into Iraq from outside the country.
The move increases US personnel in Iraq to 3,550, three-and-a-half years after the US military officially withdrew from Iraq— and with the new Pentagon plan, that number is likely to increase.
When asked about the potential for increased troop presence in Iraq, Warren pointed out that some forces could be moved around in-country to staff up the new locations.
However, such movements would require the US to shutter ongoing programs, such as basic training, that those troops were doing, such as basic training, in order to shift them to the new locations. Hence, adding new forces from outside Iraq seems a more likely solution.
One potential site, Warren acknowledged, was Balad, a location that had been was used by US forces in the past.
"There are hundreds of options," Warren said. "Essentially any spot where we had a forward operating base in the last war would be a valid option. We're familiar with those locations, we understand what the condition are around these locations."
Just what those troops would be doing at the new locations is not clear, given the expansion from basic training to the more complex mission being performed at al-Taqaddum. However, Warren would not rule out a role for coordinating airstrikes from the new bases.
"As you're closer to where the battle is going on, your situational awareness will increase. And that situational awareness is what helps inform strikes," he said. "But much more importantly, by having advisers and assisters there where the planning for future operations is being conducted, you can integrate coalition airpower into that plan much more efficiently and effectively."