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White House Will Send 1,500 Military Personnel To Iraq


Today, the White House authorized the deployment of an additional 1500 U.S. troops to Iraq. They'll be deployed in noncombat roles, acting as advisors and trainers to Iraqi and Kurdish forces in the fight against the so-called Islamic State or ISIS. NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman is here in the studio to explain. Tom, 1,500 more troops, this is a significant expansion.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Well, they're doubling the number of troops, so it'll now rise to 3,000, so it's significant. And senior administration officials at a briefing with reporters were asked, is this mission creep? They said no, because these additional troops will be doing the same job as the ones there now, training and advising Iraqi and Kurdish forces. They will not be in a combat role. And I asked - listen if the need for more U.S. troops does this show the Iraqi forces are in worse shape than they initially thought? The senior official said, no, this just allowed the U.S. advisers to moving into other regions of Iraq, like Anbar province instead of training centers. Of course Anbar's now full of Islamic State fighters.

BLOCK: And what's the cost estimate for these advisers?

BOWMAN: Well this training effort they say will cost a little more than one and a half billion dollars. And it's important to note thought that the U.S. has already spent billions, some estimate 10 billion over the past decade training these Iraqi forces. When the Islamic State came in, back in June in northern Iraq, some of these U.S. trained Iraqi troops actually drop their weapons and ran. And Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesmen, talked about that today. Let's listen.


REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY: Well they didn't all run away and yeah, we did spend a lot of money and effort training the Iraqi army. And when he left in 2011 we left them capable and competent to the threat that they faced. That opportunity they were given, the skills that they were provided, the leadership that they had were squandered by the Maliki Government over the last three - three-and-a-half years.

BOWMAN: You know, part of that problem is former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki fired many of the best commanders and replaced them with political hacks. But U.S. officials say the new government is doing a much better job.

BLOCK: They didn't all run away, I wouldn't call that a ringing endorsement of the Iraqi security forces.

BOWMAN: It's not a ringing endorsement.

BLOCK: When will these new U.S. troops be deployed?

BOWMAN: They don't know yet, they said over the coming months. And also we're not sure which units will be coming from U.S. or Europe from that matter - or even how long they'll be staying. Those questions they just don't have right yet.

BLOCK: And what about the timing? Why make this announcement now? It's coming right on the heels of the midterm elections.

BOWMAN: Well it's funny because a reporter asked the officials that, they said, you know, why did you wait till after the elections. Of course polls show most Americans have soured on these long missions and officials say hey, listen it had nothing to do with the election, the Iraqi's just appointed a new defense minister, they also have come up with operational plans for going after the Islamic State. It had everything to do with that and nothing to do with the American election.

BLOCK: Tom any reason to think that these new troops heading over to Iraq would be doing more than advising and training Iraqi and Kurdish forces?

BOWMAN: Well not right yet and again they reiterated today that they will not be in a combat role. But the chairman of the joint Chiefs, Gen. Martin Dempsey, said listen, once they start taking back territory and he mentioned the second- largest city in Iraq, Mosul, once they start down that road, taking the city, they may need American - air control- is they're actually calling in airstrikes, helping them. They would be with the units on the ground. And that's more of a combat role most people would say.

BLOCK: And is the expectation that more troops will ultimately be sent now to Iraq?

BOWMAN: Well, that's funny, they said they're not anticipating any more troops, but they did say this is not a ceiling on the number of U.S. troops.

BLOCK: OK NPR's Tom Bowman. We were talking about President Obama authorizing an additional 1,500 troops to be sent to Iraq. Tom, thanks very much.

BOWMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.