World Bulletin/News Desk
American forces have begun advising Iraqi troops in the western Anbar province, the top U.S. general told Reuters, in a faster-than-expected expansion of an operation that is central to its campaign against ISIL.
General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said a small group of advisers had already established themselves in a preliminary fashion at Ain al-Asad air base in the province, much of which is controlled by the militant group.
They would also eventually start training the Iraqi army's seventh division, which suffered major setbacks during the ISIL's advances across the country this summer.
"We have a train, advise and assist team in al-Asad air base," Dempsey said in an interview conducted on Saturday. "There's enough there that are already working with the seventh division to help them plan and help them understand the threat, to advise them on how to consolidate their forces."
President Barack Obama's administration announced on Nov. 7 it would send up to 1,500 more U.S. troops to Iraq, widening its advising mission and initiating training of Baghdad's forces. At the time, officials suggested the expansion would take weeks to get underway.
The seventh division's ability and willingness to engage Sunni militant forces in Anbar could be vital to any sustained offensive to reverse ISIL's gains. The group took Anbar's two main cities, Falluja and Ramadi, several months before it overran much of the rest of the country, often facing little resistance from Iraqi government forces.
TIES WITH SUNNI TRIBES CRITICAL
An aide to Dempsey said the U.S. troops, who numbered just under 50, were also already helping the seventh division as Iraq starts to build ties with Sunni Muslim tribes in the region.
The goal is to create a bridging force of thousands of Sunni tribesmen before Iraq's Shi'ite-led government creates a "National Guard", decentralising power from Baghdad.
The official said the U.S. training operation at al-Asad was expected to get underway this year.
Iraq's army has been burdened by a legacy of sectarianism in Anbar, whose dominant Sunni population resented former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Shi'ite majority government and were incensed when he ordered troops to clear a protest camp in Ramadi in late December 2013.
The ensuing Sunni tribal revolt prompted the entrance of ISIL into Falluja and Ramadi, where U.S. troops had met fierce resistance from Sunni insurgents including al Qaeda during their occupation of Iraq after the 2003 invasion that overthrew Saddam Hussein.
Dempsey described the American troops at the base as the preliminary group that would establish the training site at al Asad. "There's an adequate contingent there that can both protect itself and advise but it will need to be expanded slightly ... in order to establish the training base," he said.
U.S. and peshmerga operations have killed 37 ISIL militants on Sunday in Iraq's city of Mosul.
Airstrikes of the U.S.-led coalition forces killed 29 militants and eight others were killed by the peshmerga operations, leaving 14 injured, peshmerga commander of the eastern side of the Tigris river, Zaim Ali told AA.
The injured were taken to the Mosul state hospital, he added.
Ali stated that the heavy clashes began after ISIL militants attacked the peshmerga emplacements in Mosul's Zumar region.
ISIL was attempting to capture the Mosul dam, Ali claimed, saying the group had failed as peshmerga forces were making progress on all of its regional fronts.
Formerly, the Iraqi Defense Ministry had announced that they had started an extensive operation against ISIL militants in the eastern Diyala governorate of Iraq, where 17 villages surrounding the strategically important Al-Adheim Dam in the region were still under ISIL's control.
Meanwhile, 150 militants - whose majority had foreign ID cards on them - were killed in operations in the last two days, in the Baiji district in Saladin province, according to the Ministry.
The Iraqi army was not able to enter several houses in the district of Baiji because they were loaded with explosives, said the Ministry.
Since the middle of June, the Iraqi army and Kurdish peshmerga forces are pitted against ISIL militants, who have taken control of large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria.
The U.S. is leading an international coalition, which includes France, Germany, and Saudi Arabia, and has carried out numerous airstrikes against ISIL in Iraq and Syria.Last Mod: 16 Kasım 2014, 16:34