DOD: 'Largest Group' of U.S. Forces in Iraq There as 'Security Protection for Advisers and Assisters'

By Susan Jones | May 5, 2016 | 9:23am EDT
Iraqi soldiers participate in a training exercise with American and Spanish trainers 40 kilometers southeast of Baghdad, Iraq, on Jan. 24, 2016. (AP File Photo)

( - President Obama has sent a growing number of troops to Iraq to protect the relatively small number of American advisers and assisters he deployed in the first place to help the Iraqis fight Islamic State terrorists.

While the force protection troops do not initiate combat, they do engage in combat as part of their mission, sometimes with deadly results, as was proved again this week.

Of the more than 4,000 U.S. troops now deployed to Iraq and Syria, "a fairly small percentage of that is advise and assist," a U.S. military spokesman said on Wednesday.

"The advisers -- the advise-and-assist piece, and the train-and-equip piece is a relatively small segment of the total picture here," Col. Steve Warren told reporters at Wednesday's Pentagon briefing.

"And within that, the advise and assist is the smallest. It's really only several hundred, you know, it's a handful of teams that go and advise and assist."

Almost two years ago, on June 19, 2014, President Obama announced that the U.S. would send "a small number of additional American military advisers--up to 300--to assess how we can best train, advise, and support Iraqi Security Forces."

"American forces will not be returning to combat in Iraq," Obama promised at the time, but would only "help the Iraqis as they take the fight to terrorists."

Since then, the number of troops sent to Iraq has steady grown to the current 4,087, but still, only "several hundred" are advising and assisting, according to Warren.

Warren told reporters the "next largest" troop contingent falls into the category of "building partner capacity." These are the people who conduct training on equipment. "That's kind of the next largest group," he said, without giving a number.

"And then the overall largest group are security protection for the advisers and assisters.

"And then, of course, you have staff support, you know, there's logistics requirements, people got to eat, miles to fly, people need to go to the dentist, things like that. So there's also a logistics and a support requirement."

Navy SEAL Charles Keating IV, 31, who died in battle with Islamic State terrorists on Tuesday was part of  a "quick reaction force" sent in to protect U.S. military advisers who came under attack, the Pentagon said.

Obama announced his latest troop increase on April 24, saying he would send "up to 250 additional U.S. personnel" to Syria -- "including Special Forces," to keep up the momentum against the terrorists.

“They're not going to be leading the fight on the ground, but they will be essential in providing the training and assisting local forces that continue to drive ISIL back,” he said.

Just two days ago, White House spokesman Josh Earnest insisted that the mission in Iraq has not changed: "That mission is to support Iraqi forces on the ground who are taking the fight to ISIL on the front lines," Earnest said.

"Iraqi forces must fight for their own country. The United States cannot be a substitute for those Iraqi forces. The United States can use our military firepower, and some of our special operators, in fact, are offering them important support. But that support is -- comes in the form of offering advice and assistance. And this is the core of our strategy, which is to build up the capacity of local forces to fight for their own country."

But the steady U.S. troop increase over the past two years has more and more lawmakers demanding that Congress pass a new authorization for the use of military force.

In related news, an Army captain sued President Barack Obama on Wednesday, alleging that the president doesn't have the proper congressional authority to wage war against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.

Capt. Nathan Michael Smith filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Washington. He is asking the court to find that the war against IS violates the War Powers Resolution because Congress has not declared war or given the president specific authorization to fight it.

"This lawlessness has made it impossible for Capt. Smith to determine whether his present mission is inconsistent with his oath to 'preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,' thus requiring him to seek an independent determination of this matter from the court," the lawsuit said.


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