The spokesman for U.S. military forces in Iraq clarified the confusion over troop numbers operating in Iraq Friday, noting the exact numbers change regularly.
U.S. Army Col. Steve Warren, spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, addressed concerns over troop levels during a press corps briefing. The exact amount of U.S. military personnel operating in Iraq has been difficult to ascertain. The primary reason for the confusion is a result of the constant transfers of troops based on what capabilities are needed at the time, explained Warren.
“The numbers change daily,” said Warren, in response to a question on troop levels in Iraq. He also noted just because the troop cap has been raised, it does not mean that maintaining that level in Iraq is “required,” it is simply the “upper limit.”
The fight against Islamic State has taken a dramatic upswing since Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), backed by U.S. air power, retook the city of Ramadi last December, just west of the capital of Baghdad. The victory was hailed as the most important since Operation Inherent Resolve began. Operations to retake portions of the Nineveh Plains region and a push toward Iraq’s second largest city of Mosul have been ongoing ever since the victory.
Despite the upswing in the battle, the troop level in Iraq actually has recently lessened from 3,540 to 3,460, just as ISF has begun to run into some setbacks. Defense officials say the troop decrease is not necessarily a reflection of support capability.
“The Iraqis are leading this fight,” said U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Gary Volesky, the commander of the 101st Airborne Division, told reporters Wednesday. “The capabilities that we provide are really based on supporting the Iraqi Security Force plan. Any of these capabilities that we bring in … we work with the government of Iraq. We’re going through the training and the advise-and-assist piece, to identify capability gaps they may have. And then we recommend a few that we could potentially provide.”
Pentagon’s troop cap has increased since the operation began in 2014. While the levels hovered around 3,500 throughout most of the operation. The most recent cap increase came in April when Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced 217 addition troops would be sent to Iraq, raising the cap to 4,087.
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