WASHINGTON (AP) — In a story Jan. 4 about the U.S.-led coalition’s military advisers in Iraq, The Associated Press quoted a U.S. military spokesman who erroneously stated that the coalition had recently doubled the size of its adviser corps. The spokesman says he misstated the size of the increase, which represented only 40 more advisers and not a doubling.
A corrected version of the story is below:
US-led coalition ups number of advisers in Iraq to 450
A U.S. military spokesman says the number of American and coalition advisers in Iraq has increased in the past couple of weeks as Iraq pushes to recapture the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul
By ROBERT BURNS
AP National Security Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S.-led military coalition in Iraq has increased its adviser corps, reflecting the intensified effort to help Iraqi forces retake the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul, a U.S. officer said Wednesday.
U.S. Air Force Col. John Dorrian, speaking from coalition headquarters in Baghdad, told reporters at the Pentagon that the adviser corps has expanded to roughly 450 “in the last couple of weeks,” since Iraqi forces launched what they call “phase two” of the Mosul campaign. On Thursday, he said that represented an increase of 40 advisers.
The advisers perform a range of roles, from accompanying Iraqi troops as they move around the battlefield to providing engineering and intelligence support. They are not meant to be involved in direct combat, although they have come under fire at times. One adviser, Navy Chief Petty Officer Jason C. Finan, was killed by a roadside bomb on Oct. 20 near Mosul.
Dorrian said that for security reasons he could not disclose advisers’ specific locations, but he said they are not on the front line of combat.
“They remain behind the forward line of troops,” Dorrian said, but added that they have entered the city itself “at different times.”
The total number of U.S. troops in Iraq is 4,935, by the Pentagon’s count. They include trainers, security forces and other support troops.
Dorian said the Iraqis were succeeding in putting IS fighters under greater pressure.
The militants’ capture of Mosul in June 2014 led to the start of the U.S.-led bombing campaign and the return of American troops to advise the Iraqi government and retrain its forces. After lengthy preparations, Iraq launched its campaign to recapture the city in October.
Dorrian offered several reasons for the slow pace of their advance. He said the militants have developed well-established defenses in and around the city, and that once Iraqi security forces penetrate them, they have to deal with more than 200,000 buildings that are potential death traps.
“You end up having to clear each one,” he said. “And that goes from rooftop level, often in four-story or higher buildings, through every single room, and every single closet, and into tunnels that have been dug between these buildings, and sometimes beneath them. And it’s just slow-going.”
Dorrian also said the U.S. government is consulting with Turkish officials about the type and level of military support for Turkey’s campaign against IS militants in the Syrian city of al-Bab. The U.S. had previously said it was not supporting that operation.
Dorrian said U.S. warplanes recently flew over the city after Turkey requested air support. He said the planes provided a “show of force” but did not drop bombs. Next U.S. steps are under discussion, he said.
“The Turks are aware of some of the things that might be in store,” he said.
The counter-IS campaign has put enormous strain on U.S.-Turkey relations, which were further tested by accusations of U.S. involvement in a failed coup by members of the Turkish military last summer. The Turkish government also is suspicious of U.S. support for Syrian Kurdish fighters, whom the Turks view as terrorists and a threat to Turkey.
On Wednesday, Turkey’s defense minister, Fikri Isik, suggested that these tensions are putting in doubt the continued use of Turkey’s Incirlik air base by U.S. and coalition air forces. Asked about this, Dorrian, the U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, said he could not comment directly on Isik’s remarks, but he stressed the importance of Incirlik, which hosts American and coalition attack and surveillance aircraft.
“It’s absolutely invaluable,” Dorrian said. “Indeed, you know, really the entire world has been made safer by the operations that have been conducted there. So it’s a very important base to the coalition and to the ongoing fight against (the Islamic State).”