ARLINGTON, Va. — The Pentagon today acknowledged that there are American troops “on the outskirts of the city” with Iraqi and Peshmerga forces trying to take Mosul back from ISIS.
Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook told reporters that there are about 5,000 U.S. troops in Iraq with the Operation Inherent Resolve mission to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
“Many of those people are in enabler roles. They may be trainers. We’ve talked about the 12 Iraqi brigades that have been trained for this fight. Again, many of the U.S. forces have been part of that effort,” Cook said.
A spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve said five days ago that the last of those 12 brigades was on track to complete training “in the next couple of weeks.”
“We have some people in train, advise and assist mission as well with Iraqi forces. They’ve been primarily up to this point, as we’ve indicated at the headquarters level, the commander there, General Townsend, has had the authority to use advisers at a lower level. He has up to this point used that very sparingly, and as the course of this fight plays out, he’ll determine what the appropriate use of our forces are in that context. but I’m not going to get into specific numbers today, particularly on the first day of this — of this effort. But he will use that judiciously,” Cook said.
“And again, we — we’ve also separately of course been providing advise and assist roles with both the counterterrorism service separate from the conventional Iraqi army, as well as the Peshmerga. And we’ll continue to do that with Americans in a support role providing advice and assistance to those forces as they conduct their operations.”
The Pentagon spokesman emphasized that “each and every one of these decisions are decisions that we are reaching with the Iraqis.”
“We are not doing anything in this fight without the consent and approval of the — the government of Iraq,” he said.
He acknowledged that Mosul, which before the ISIS occupation was Iraq’s fifth-largest city, “will be a significant fight.”
“So we’re going to leave it to the Iraqis to determine the movement of their forces and we’ll be there in a support role. It is too soon to say at this point where these movements will go, what the Americans will do in that advisory capacity,” Cook said. “But what is important is that it will be Iraqis in the lead, it will not be Americans. We will be playing the support role, as we have throughout the course of this campaign.”
He said it’s “fair to say that there are Americans at a — on the outskirts of the city, but I’m not gonna get into the disposition of every single American.”
Cook didn’t have a percentage of how many of the 5,000 American troops are currently involved in the Mosul offensive, “but we have to remember, this is, by an order of magnitude, the most significant military operation yet in this campaign in Iraq.”
“…I think there are a significant number of Americans who are — have helped get us to this point. There may be a reduced number, actually, physically, geographically involved in it at this time, but plenty of Americans have contributed to getting the Iraqi forces into the position where they are able to carry out this fight.”
White House press secretary Josh Earnest today pushed back on suggestions that the Mosul battle was timed for just before Election Day, asserting that Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is “not gonna be distracted by the American political calendar.”
“He’s gonna be focused on the strategic considerations that are most likely to contribute to success on the ground in Iraq. He’s looking out for the best interests of the Iraqi people,” Earnest said. “And he’s interested in moving expeditiously, as quickly as possible, to clear ISIL from Mosul, to stabilize that city and to kick ISIL out of Iraq. That’s been a priority that he’s been pursuing for quite some time and we’ve made steady progress over the last year, year and a half.”
ISIS issued their own news alerts throughout the day, stating that they’d sent a dozen suicide bombers in “explosive-laden vehicles” toward the “convoys of apostates” and had fired “over 113 mortar shells” at the coalition advance.