As Iraqi tanks charge across their country to purge the city of Mosul from the Islamic State group, the United States has just as much to gain from the operation as the Iraqis themselves.
Since 2014, the U.S. has provided advise and assist operations to prop the beleaguered Iraqi military back on its feet after IS group gutted it of weapons, supplies and soldiers during its blitzkrieg across Iraq and Syria. Coalition forces later launched airstrikes in both countries, reinforcing Iraqi, Kurdish and Syrian ground forces, while maintaining that no foreign combat troops would partake in the fight.
A look at the U.S. role against the Islamic State group:
HOW MANY U.S. SOLDIERS ARE CURRENTLY IN IRAQ AND SYRIA?
According to the Pentagon, there are 4,815 U.S. forces currently in Iraq, including some special operations forces. That number does not include as many as 1,500 troops who are there on temporary duty or other short-term contracts. The Obama administration has authorized a maximum troop level of 5,262.
In Syria, the Obama administration has authorized 300 troops — most of them special operations forces who are tasked mainly with working with Syrian Democratic Forces, a coalition of Kurdish and Arab allies. Medical and logistics units are also included in that number.
WHERE ARE THEY LOCATED?
U.S. forces in Iraq use bases in the cities of Baghdad, Irbil, Taji and Habaniyah. There are also “several hundred” American troops at the military base in Qayara West, south of Mosul, where they are helping build a staging area for the Iraqi security forces operation to recapture the city, according to a U.S. military official, who spoke anonymously because the details haven’t been made public.
In northern Syria, details remain a closely-guarded secret given the sensitivity of the operations. U.S. support is ultimately aimed at helping the Syrian Democratic Forces advance on Raqqa, Islamic State’s de facto capital. They sometimes stay in the country for several weeks at a time.
WHAT IS THE OVERALL MISSION?
In Iraq there are advisers, trainers, special operations forces and others stationed at Iraqi bases, working with the Iraqi forces. In addition to working with the Iraqis at the division headquarters level, some advisers are advising the Iraqis at the brigade and battalion level, meaning that they are embedding those teams of advisers with smaller units, closer to the fight.
American forces in Syria aren’t actually based in Syria. They travel in and out from neighboring countries — mainly Turkey and Iraq — sometimes staying in the country for several days at a time. They are there to provide advice and other assistance, but do not fight alongside the Syrians. Pentagon officials say that U.S. Special Forces have carried out about 400 missions in Syria to date.
HOW IS THE AIR CAMPAIGN GOING?
Since airstrikes began in August 2014, over 10,200 airstrikes had been cumulatively carried out in Iraq and nearly 5,600 in Syria. August saw a second consecutive month that coalition airstrikes in Syria outnumbered those in Iraq.
According to Chris Woods, director of the Airwars project, a group that tracks and archives data from the international air war against the IS group, only 7 percent of the airstrikes being conducted in Iraq and Syria were by Reaper and Predator drones.
WHO ARE OUR PARTNERS?
While the vast majority of airstrikes are conducted by the U.S. in both Iraq and Syria, coalition partners include the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Denmark, Australia, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, the Netherlands, Belgium and Bahrain.
Backed by U.S. airstrikes, Turkey has also sent tanks, warplanes and special operations forces into northern Syria. Turkey’s objective has been twofold: It’s looking to clear Islamic State militants from its remaining border stronghold, while also rolling back any advances made by Syrian Kurdish militias, which Turkey regards as a significant national security threat.
While Russia is not part of the coalition in Syria, the U.S. has worked out a limited agreement with the Russians to de-conflict flights over Syria to maintain airspace safety and avoid collisions. But diplomatic talks with Russia became to disintegrate this month after the U.S. formally accused Russia of trying to meddle in the U.S. election by hacking U.S. political groups. Secretary of State John Kerry also accused the Kremlin of war crimes in Syria, all but ending efforts to boost cooperation between Washington and Moscow on the issue of Syria.
SO, WHERE DO WE STAND ON THE MOSUL OPERATION?
Timeframes provided by American and Iraqi officials have varied between a few weeks to a few months, but there is no question that the push toward the Islamic State stronghold is very much underway.
East of Mosul, coalition forces, supported Kurdish peshmerga fighters, are conducting an operation dubbed Evergreen II, which was designed to seize and control the key terrain near the Gaur River Bridge and the Great Zab River. The operation was executed with nearly 2,000 peshmerga fighters, with support from coalition and artillery strikes.
Coalition supported forces have also cleared five villages around Mosul, namely Qayara, which will be used as a critical staging ground for the Mosul operation, as well as a center for humanitarian efforts.
The coalition is providing training to remove many of the explosive remnants of war that IS fighters typically leave behind once they’ve been driven from an area. It is also conducting multiple strikes around the city with the goal of denying the militants access to critical infrastructure and resources, including the Tigris River.
Associated Press writer Lolita Baldor contributed to this report from Washington.
Source : ABC News: International