Are US troops back on the ground in Iraq? It has been claimed that a 160 US soldiers have arrived in Iraq in preparation for a decisive battle against ISIS militants in the centre of the country.
According to several local news outlets citing an unnamed Iraqi military official, the battalion secretively arrived in the frontline province of Anbar, 70 miles west of the capital Baghdad.
The Mail Online reports: Although the U.S. is yet to confirm the reports, it would be the first time American ground troops were deployed for combat in Iraq since forces were withdrawn in 2011. That said, several hundred U.S. soldiers are already stationed in Anbar but their work has been limited to training local groups.
The American fighting force is said to have arrived in Anbar on Sunday and has been stationed at Iraq’s Habbaniyah air base.
While there are already hundreds of U.S. soldiers at the base, the new arrivals are believed to have been dispatched purely to fight ISIS, rather than train locals.
One unnamed Iraqi military spokesman told the Al-Arabi Al-Jadeed news site: ‘The new forces’ mission does not appear to be training the Iraqi army or the tribes fighting with me. We expect that they will provide direct support in the upcoming battle to retake Ramadi.’
The long-planned Ramadi mission comes after ISIS forces seized Anbar’s provincial capital in mid-May in a demoralising blow for the local branch of the embattled Iraqi army, which had resisted the terror group’s advances in the region for over a year.
The city is of strategic importance not just because of its proximity to the regime-held capital of Baghdad, but also because it lies on the main road to the oil rich city of Mosul – ISIS’ main stronghold in Iraq and a major source of the terror group’s enormous income.
Speaking of the alleged deployment of the American fighting force, a leader of one of the major clans fighting ISIS in Anbar province said he was in favour of their arrival.
‘The American fighting force’s arrival in Anbar gives a major military momentum to combat troops, because this force is armed better and has better experience fighting battles in cities,’ Mahmoud Hussein Al-Alwani told Middle East Monitor.