In a major shift of focus in the battle against the Islamic State, the Obama administration is planning to establish a new military base in Anbar Province, Iraq, and to send up to 450 more American military trainers to help Iraqi forces retake the city of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar.
Officials said these troops will not have a combat role.
Obama says he doesn’t have a “complete” plan for ramping up training of Iraqi troops, but the decision to send more troops in came after Ramadi fell last month.
The additional American troops will arrive as early as this summer, a United States official said, and rather than focusing on training Iranian-backed Shiites, who dominate the Iraqi army along with Kurds, they will shift their attention to reaching out to Sunni tribes in Anbar to join the fight against the terrorist group.
They will be facing an uphill task as many of the Sunni fighters in the area do not trust the Iraqi Army, but the official called the coming announcement “an adjustment to try to get the right training to the right folks.”
Obama said it was important to draw Sunni Muslims into the fight against the Islamic State as they are “willing and prepared to fight.”
The Obama administration hopes is that the outreach will reduce the Iraqi military’s reliance on Shiite militias to take back territory from the Islamic State.
“The Sunnis want to be part of the fight,” the official said. “This will help empower them, creating more recruits and more units to fight ISIL,” he added.
Obama said the arms and equipment sent will go to the Iraqi government forces in Anbar, not directly to the Sunni tribes.
ISIS are Sunni muslims who are against Shia muslims.
There have been frequent accounts of fighters’ capturing groups of people and releasing the Sunnis while the Shias are singled out for execution. ISIS has also recently been bombing Shiite mosques.
The Times of India explains ISIS believes that the Shias are apostates and must die in order to forge a pure form of Islam. The differences between the two main branches of Islam lie in their beliefs over who is the true inheritor of the mantle of the Prophet Muhammad.
The United States now has about 3,000 troops, including trainers and advisers, in Iraq.
Critics, such as Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, argue that the Obama administration is just reinforcing failure and has not done enough because they have not yet approved the use of American spotters on the battlefield to call in airstrikes in and around Ramadi.
Other countries will also be expanding their efforts.
Britain’s prime minister, David Cameron, said this week that his country would send up to 125 additional troops to train Iraqi forces, including in how to clear improvised bombs, taking the number of UK personnel training Iraqi security forces to 275.
Italy is also expected to play an important role in training the Iraqi police.