The Obama administration is sending 450 more U.S. military personnel to help Iraq's military as it tries to take back the city of Ramadi from the terrorist group ISIS, a senior administration official confirmed to NBC News — a move the White House emphasized is not "boots on the ground" by another name.
"To improve the capabilities and effectiveness of partners on the ground, the president authorized the deployment of up to 450 additional U.S. military personnel to train, advise, and assist Iraqi Security Forces at Taqaddum military base in eastern Anbar province," according to a statement by the White House released Wednesday.
"The president made this decision after a request from Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi and upon the recommendation of [Defense] Secretary [Ash] Carter and [Joint Chiefs of Staff] Chairman [Martin] Dempsey, and with the unanimous support of his national security team."
The U.S. troops will not serve in a combat role and will augment the more than 3,000 U.S. troops who have already deployed to Iraq, according to administration officials. The first wave moving to the Taqaddum base will be forces already in country on the ground, and then the administration will pull additional forces from out of country to that site.
U.S. forces are already training Iraqi forces at the al-Assad air base, which is west of Ramadi. This brings the total number of U.S. forces up to 3,550 authorized across Iraq — in an advisory, training and support role, the Pentagon confirmed Wednesday.
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The new strategy comes after Iraqi forces suffered a string of embarrassing defeats to ISIS, including the loss of Ramadi, Anbar province's capital, on May 17. Abadi asked for the additional training mission after the fall of Ramadi in a phone call to Vice President Joe Biden, administration officials said.
President Barack Obama has also spoken with Abadi several times, most recently at the G-7 summit.
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"The administration's decision to add 450 trainers to assist the Iraqis is a welcome recognition that the current approach is not working and that adjustments need to be made," said David Rothkopf, a former Clinton administration official and editor of Foreign Policy Group, a collection of foreign policy publications.
However, the approach does raise questions, Rothkopf said.
"It is still based on the president's core idea that [ISIS ] will have to be defeated on the ground by the Iraqis and Syrians," Rothkopf said. "As we have seen, that approach poses many problems — those associated with sectarian divides within Iraq, with unhappiness over the role of Shiite militias among Sunnis, unease over the role of Iran and so on."
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The retreat of Iraqi soldiers in the face of outnumbered ISIS fighters in the battle for Ramadi prompted Carter to say in an interview, "We have an issue with the will of the Iraqis to fight ISIL [ISIS] and defend themselves."
Iraq's military vowed to recapture Ramadi from ISIS "within days," after a stinging criticism of its troops' "will to fight" from Carter.
Brett McGurk, the deputy special envoy to counter ISIS, said Wednesday the terrorist organization's method for mounting attacks is to first strike with suicide bombings, which are carried out almost exclusively by foreign fighters whose weapon of choice is usually a massive suicide truck bomb. This method of bombing creates panic, and then forces come in from different angles to create the feeling that they are surrounding a unit.
This tactic is what leads to failures of command and control and a crack in Iraqi forces, McGurk said.
The additional U.S. capacity at Taqaddum will help the Iraqis add to their situational awareness and will have a dramatic effect on the situational awareness of the enemy.
"The enemy is not always as strong as they pretend to be," McGurk said.
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The administration has also stressed that the Iraqi army needs to become more effective on its own behalf, Rothkopf said.
"This new step is seen as a relatively low-risk way of shoring them up. The new U.S. troops are not going to be on a combat mission and should be seen as distinct from 'boots on the ground.' Whether sending a few hundred will make a big difference remains to be seen," Rothkopf said.
"My guess is it will help, but not enough," he said. "I suspect we will see some modest further escalations in our involvement involving advisers, spotters, special forces who can help support the Iraqis better on the battlefield."
The Iraqi army is also going through an audit of its roles and expects to cut names of soldiers who have already left, administration officials said. This is expected to open up 3,000 positions that the Iraqis have promised to fill.
The Iraqis are also having economic problems because oil prices are down and the budget has been cut almost in half. McGurk said international stabilization funds, promised by donor nations last week at a conference in Paris, will be a key element in holding territory once it is cleared of ISIS in order to "help get life to come back to the streets."
Meanwhile, Republican leaders on Capitol Hill continued to criticize what they see as the Obama administration's "lack of a clear strategy" to combat ISIS.
"Nearly a year since U.S. airstrikes began, we still have no strategy, we are losing time, and ISIL has regained the operational initiative," said Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona in a statement.
And some Iraqi officials weren't sure if the new move would help — or even happen.
"It is just a verbal statement, it has not been approved by the Iraqi government," a senior security official told NBC News in Baghdad. "As you know, many Shiite armed groups ... stated before that they are not going to support the government in its war against ISIS in places where U.S. troops are involved."