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Pentagon: Troops To Be Close To Iraqi Front Lines In Fight Against ISIS

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The Pentagon is sending more than 200 additional U.S. troops for the fight to retake the Iraqi city of Mosul from the Islamic State. Officials say those troops include military trainers, helicopter crews and artillery batteries. Defense Secretary Ash Carter says it was an effort to accelerate the battle against ISIS. NPR's Tom Bowman reports.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: These new military trainers will be closer to the front lines. For the first time, Pentagon officials said American soldiers will accompany Iraqi battalions rather than being stationed in rear headquarters with higher-level brigades or divisions. Here's Secretary Carter talking to U.S. troops in Baghdad about the added support for the Iraqi Security Forces or ISF.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ASH CARTER: We're going to make available attack helicopters in support of the ISF's ongoing efforts to envelop and then retake Mosul.

BOWMAN: That's another risky move because those Apache attack helicopters fly lower than American warplanes, so they're more susceptible to anti-aircraft fire. And the U.S. will provide more artillery support, too. Marine artillery already has deployed to a small outpost in northern Iraq. Last month, ISIS fired back, killing one marine and wounding several more.

There are now some 5,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. And U.S. officials say there could be more U.S. troops sent before Iraqi forces mount an attack on Mosul in the coming months. Most of them are trainers, but there are hundreds of special operators tracking down ISIS leaders with Kurdish forces in both Syria and Iraq. Finally, the U.S. will provide $415 million each month to support the Kurdish forces in Iraq. Secretary Carter said in Baghdad the Obama administration is still pressing for more help from other countries.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CARTER: You know, I and more importantly, of course, the president will continue to be asking - even as we're asking more of ourselves - to ask more of our coalition partners in Europe, the Gulf and elsewhere.

BOWMAN: Europe has sent hundreds of trainers to Iraq. The Gulf states have not sent any. President Obama is visiting Saudi Arabia this week for talks that are expected to touch on the fight against ISIS. The American-led effort has come a long way from 2014 when President Obama began sending military advisers to northern Iraq.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The American forces that have been deployed to Iraq do not and will not have a combat mission.

BOWMAN: Pentagon officials now acknowledge that some American troops are in what they call combat situations. Tom Bowman, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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