A US soldier at Camp Swift in northern Iraq in September. Photo: Susannah George/AP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The United States has moved to step up its military intervention in Iraq nearly three months into the operation that started in October to drive ISIS gunmen out from their last holdouts in the country, stationing some 5,000 soldiers around the embattled city of Mosul, according to a top Iraqi commander.
The deployment of the military personnel near the war zone in northern Iraq, which is seen as a notable escalation of US involvement in the fight against ISIS in the country, also represents a shift from earlier US military strategy that has so far ruled out direct ground combat for its troops in both Iraq and Syria.
"There is a deal among Iraq, America and Kurdistan Region regarding the operation and it's being implemented now," said the Iraqi army commander who spoke to Rudaw on condition of anonymity.
The commander said the deployment of nearly all US army personnel in Iraq to Nineveh Plains "could ruin Mosul, but it may also have a positive side as it will prevent clashes among Iraqi armed groups" after eliminating ISIS in the city.
The White House raised its cap on US forces in Iraq from 4,647, to 5,262 troops ahead of the Mosul operation in October, many of whom are described as military advisors who assist Iraqi and Kurdish troops fighting their common jihadist foes.
"Before the Mosul operation started, an agreement was reached among Iraq, Kurdistan Region and the US according to which the Hashd al-Shaabi would be prevented from entering the city, the Peshmerga advancement would be halted and US troops and air activities would increase, all of which are now being implemented," the Iraqi commander said.
The Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi forces are battling ISIS west of Mosul, cutting off supply and escape routes to Syria.
The Peshmerga were active in the first stage of the offensive, clearing rural areas north and east of the city.
The Iraqi army is the only force entering the city itself. Despite liberating nearly 40 neighborhoods in Mosul, the operation to retake the city has been slower than expected with Iraqi army still struggling to enter the more densely populated central parts of the city.
Kurdish military sources told Rudaw that the Peshmerga forces are now taking part in the offensive as supporting units for Iraqi army and coalition airstrikes, with little presence in the direct fighting.