Escalation Nation: US Marines Expanding Iraq Combat Role
March 25, 2016 Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com & Associated Press
The US combat role in Iraq appeared to expand as US Marines provided targeting assistance and artillery fire to support Iraqi troops. Earlier this week, US officials confirmed the creation of a Marine outpost, dubbed Fire Base Bell -- the first such base established since the US returned forces to Iraq in 2014. Pentagon officials are still trying to argue semantics, insisting Firebase Bell is not a "combat outpost," despite its role in combat,
US Marines Expand Combat Role,
Participating in Iraq Offensive Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(March 24, 2016) -- Iraq's new military offensive southeast of Mosul seized several villages, and while Iraqi officials emphasized the involvement of US airstrikes in the attack, the US also participated on the ground, according to officials.
US Marines from Firebase Bell fired illumination rounds early in the battle to help see ISIS forces during the pre-dawn attacks, and also provided supporting fire for Iraqi troops advancing into the villages.
Indications are there wasn't much combat in this offensive, with ISIS not having much in place to defend the relatively unimportant villages, but the involvement does reflect that Firebase Bell is being used as a staging area for US involvement in ground combat.
Despite this, Pentagon officials are still trying to argue semantics, insisting we shouldn't consider Firebase Bell a "combat outpost" as much, despite its role in combat, because it's located a bit behind the front lines near Mosul.
Earlier this week, the Pentagon announced that more Marines are being deployed to Iraq soon, and that they will be participating in direct combat. It is unclear, then, why officials are so desperate to portray today's involvement in combat as something less.
Fox News points out US war in Iraq is illegal; claims Obama lacks a strategy. Fox recommends a new approach: "Declare war and then come up with a strategy."
WASHINGTON (March 24, 2016) -- The American combat role in Iraq appeared to expand on Thursday as US Marines operating from a small outpost provided targeting assistance and artillery fire to support Iraqi troops inching forward to retake Mosul from Islamic State militants.
A senior US official said the Marines fired illumination rounds to help the Iraqi forces locate IS fighters, and also fired artillery rounds in support of the operation, as Iraqi troops took control of several villages on the outskirts of Makhmour, southeast of Mosul. The official was not authorized to discuss the operation publicly and requested anonymity.
Earlier this week, US military officials confirmed the creation of the Marine outpost, dubbed Fire Base Bell. It's the first such base established by the US since it returned forces to Iraq in 2014. But they insisted that the nearly 200 Marines were only there to provide security for Iraqi forces and US advisers at the nearby Iraqi base in Makhmour.
American fighter jets also participated in Thursday's operation, launching multiple airstrikes on at least two locations, hitting enemy rocket and mortar positions, the official said. The US-led coalition has routinely been launching airstrikes across Iraq against the Islamic State group.
A second US official on Thursday said the Marines provided the artillery fire in response to a request from the Iraqi government and that US leaders don't believe this to be an expanded combat mission.
The official, who was not authorized to discuss the operation publicly so spoke on condition of anonymity, said it was considered expanded support for the Iraqis.
Army Col. Steve Warren, a spokesman for the US military headquarters in Baghdad, told Pentagon reporters on Monday that Fire Base Bell should not be considered a combat outpost because it is located behind the front lines and is not initiating combat with the militants.
On Thursday, however, the use of illumination rounds and artillery to support the forward advance of the Iraqi troops appeared to expand the Marines' role from purely security to more direct combat action, although the Marines were not on the front lines with the Iraqis.
The White House has ruled out a ground combat role for the US in Iraq, and is intent on avoiding the appearance of any expansion in military operations there — more than four years after President Barack Obama pulled US troops out of the country.
So officials have been walking a fine line as they describe the operations of the Marine artillery unit, insisting everything is related to "force protection" of the Iraqi and US forces at the Makhmour base.
The key difference Thursday was that the Marines were not firing artillery to protect Iraqis and US advisers at the base but were helping the Iraqis in an offensive operation against the Islamic State militants.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter has said the US is looking at a number of options to "accelerate" the fight against IS. Those options are still under discussion in the Pentagon and have not yet officially been submitted to the White House for approval.
The range of options could include sending additional US forces to Iraq, using Apache helicopters for combat missions, deploying more US special operations forces or using American military advisers in Iraqi units closer to the front lines.
The White House has capped the number of US forces in Iraq at about 3,870, but that total doesn't include as many as 1,000 troops who are there but exempt because of the military's personnel accounting system. For example, troops sent to Iraq for temporary, short-term assignments are exempt.
The Marines at Fire Base Bell are part of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which has been based on the USS Kearsarge, an amphibious assault ship that has been deployed in the region.
Their movement into Iraq comes as the Iraqi forces formally begin their push to retake Mosul.
Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool, spokesman for Iraq's Joint Military Command, announced Thursday that the Iraqi forces had launched their campaign for Mosul. But US officials have described it more as early operations that are aimed at clearing a path and eventually setting the stage for a Mosul offensive.
It's not clear how long it would take to recapture Mosul. US military and defense leaders have declined to say when the actual move to retake the city will begin or if the IS militants could be ousted from the Mosul by the end of the year. The US has said it will take many months to prepare Iraqi forces for such a long and complicated offensive.
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