Obama has authorized the deployment of an additional 1,500 troops to Iraq

WASHINGTON — President Obama has authorized the deployment of an additional 1,500 American troops to Iraq in the coming months, doubling the number of Americans meant to train and advise Iraqi and Kurdish forces.

The trainers and advisers are to help Iraqis and Kurds as they plan a major offensive expected next spring against Islamic State fighters who have poured into Iraq from Syria.

Pentagon officials said Friday that military advisers would establish training sites across Iraq in a significant expansion of the American military campaign in Iraq and Syria against the Islamic State. A Defense Department official said that a number of military personnel would deploy specifically to Anbar Province, the Sunni stronghold in western Iraq that was the scene of bloody fighting for years after the 2003 American-led invasion. In recent months Sunni militants with the Islamic State have been seizing and holding territory across Anbar.

In addition, White House budget officials said they would ask Congress for $5 billion for military operations in the Middle East against the Islamic State, including $1.6 billion to train and equip Iraqi troops. At its height in 2006 and 2007, the Iraq war was costing the United States more than $60 billion a year.

Administration officials said the expanded effort was intended to help the Iraqis break the Islamic State’s occupation in northern and western Iraq, re-establish the government’s control over the country’s major roads and borders, and retake Mosul, a city of about a million people 250 miles north of Baghdad.

The timing of the announcement — three days after the midterm elections — raised the question of whether the administration, wary of angering a war-weary American public, decided to wait until after the elections to minimize further damage to Democratic candidates. For several weeks now, administration officials have said they expected they would have to send additional American troops to help the Iraqi forces, who initially disintegrated in the face of the rampaging Islamic State.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, acting on weeks-old advice from top generals, formally requested the additional troops this week, according to Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary. Pentagon officials said that Mr. Hagel was responding to a request from the Iraqi government for the troops and that United States Central Command, which oversees American military operations in the Middle East, had assessed the Iraqi units and determined that help was needed.

Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, said that Mr. Obama has authorized the additional personnel to operate at Iraqi bases, even those outside the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, and Erbil, the Kurdish capital. Until now, American troops have been operating at a headquarters with Iraqi and Kurdish forces in those two cities.

Administration officials insisted Friday that the doubling to 3,000 American troops in Iraq was consistent with the president’s policy that the United States is not engaged in combat in Iraq. Mr. Obama, who ran against the Iraq war in his 2008 presidential campaign and pulled all American troops from the country in 2011, has repeatedly ruled out sending ground troops back to Iraq, even as he is deepening American military engagement in both Iraq and Syria.

A senior administration official, who asked for anonymity under ground rules imposed by the White House, rejected suggestions that the doubling of forces amounted to mission creep.

“The mission is not changing at all for our service members,” the official said, adding that the president “made clear that we are not going to be putting U.S. men and women back into combat. We will continue to assure people that this is a different kind of mission.”

During a conference call with reporters, senior administration officials denied that Mr. Obama waited until after the elections to announce the deployment so as not to alarm an already skittish electorate. “It’s being done now, quite frankly, because the Iraqis have demonstrated the willingness and the will to go after ISIL,” Admiral Kirby told reporters after the call, using another name for the Islamic State. Iraqi forces, he said, have “reached the point where they need additional help and guidance.”

Admiral Kirby said that Iraq’s new prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, had requested the help. “There was no political angle to the timing here,” he said.

Administration officials did not express any heightened concern, at least during the conference call, about the military effort. So far it consists largely of American airstrikes on Islamic State artillery positions, vehicles and, in a few cases, small patrol boats on the Euphrates River.

White House officials said the request for $5 billion will be presented to Congress during the lame-duck session that begins next week. Officials said the decision to send additional troops was based on what they said was legal authority the president already has from Congress. But they said the president wanted a new authorization from Congress for continuing American military action in Iraq and Syria, which Mr. Obama has said will last into the presidency of his successor.

“I do think that it points to the utility in the president working with Congress to formulate and implement our counter-ISIL strategy,” the official said. If Congress and the president are in agreement on a strategy against the Islamic State, the official said, “we send a more united message overseas.”

Iraqi and Kurdish forces have slowly begun pushing back and retaking territory threatened or captured by the Islamic State in recent weeks, including the Rabia border crossing with Syria, the oil refinery in Baiji north of Baghdad, the northern town of Zumar, and Jurf al-Sakhar, southwest of Baghdad. But officials said the major push will require training three new Iraqi Army divisions, more than 20,000 troops, in the coming months.

Since the departure of Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, the former Iraqi prime minister, American officials have been far more vocal about blaming him for what is widely viewed as a dismal initial performance by the Iraqi military against the Islamic State. On Friday, Admiral Kirby said that the new Iraqi government under Mr. Abadi has shown a new willingness to work to engage Sunni groups, including in Anbar, and to train its soldiers to stand and fight.

“We did spend a lot of money and effort training the Iraqi Army,” Admiral Kirby said. “When we left them in 2011, we left them capable.” He said the Maliki government “squandered” the American military’s training of Iraqi troops, but expressed optimism that things will be different now. “This is a completely different game,” he said, pointing to a recent visit by Mr. Abadi to Anbar Province to engage Sunni leaders in the fight against the Islamic State.

Administration officials said they expect international allies will help in the training effort and announced a commitment Friday of 120 military personnel from Denmark to the cause.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/08/world/middleeast/us-to-send-1500-more-troops-to-iraq.html?_r=0

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