The US will deploy more than 200 additional troops to Iraq—upping the number from 3,870 to 4,087—and send Apache helicopters for the first time into the fight against ISIS in Iraq, the first major increase in US forces in nearly a year. The uptick in US forces—and the decision to put them closer to the front lines—is designed to help Iraqi forces retake the key northern city of Mosul, and help retake Raqqa, the extremist's group self-proclaimed capital in Syria, the AP reports. Last June the Obama administration announced hundreds of troops would be deployed to help the Iraqis retake Ramadi—a goal accomplished at the end of the year. Of the extra troops, most will be Army special forces, who've been used throughout the anti-ISIS campaign to advise and assist the Iraqis. The remainder will include some trainers, security forces for advisers, and maintenance teams for the Apaches.
The advise-and-assist teams—made up of some dozen troops, each accompanied by security forces—will embed with Iraqi brigades and battalion, likely putting them closer to the front lines. The proximity to the battlefront will allow the US teams to provide more tactical combat advice as Iraqis move toward Mosul, still under ISIS control. Until now, US advisers have worked with the Iraqis at the headquarters level, well back from the front lines. A senior defense official told reporters that while Iraqi leaders have been reluctant to have a large number of US troops in Iraq, they also need certain capabilities that only more American or coalition forces can provide. Iraqi leaders back the addition of more US troops if their work is coordinated with Iraqis and directed toward retaking Mosul. Anonymous US officials have said that the number of special operations forces in Syria would be increased at some point, but Defense Secretary Ash Carter, speaking to US troops in Baghdad, didn't mention that. (Read more Iraq stories.)