President Barack Obama has authorized the deployment of up to 1,500 more U.S. troops for Iraq, roughly doubling the number already there to advise and retrain Iraqi forces battling Islamic State militants, U.S. officials said on Friday.
The United States has about 1,400 troops in Iraq, slightly below a previous limit of 1,600.
The Pentagon said it planned to establish several sites across the country to train nine Iraqi army brigades and three brigades of Kurdish Peshmerga fighters. They will be set up in northern, western and southern Iraq.
The U.S. military would also establish “advise and assist” operations centers, adding to similar centers already set up in Baghdad and Arbil.
Alarmed by the advance of Islamic State militants across Iraq, Obama began sending non-combatant troops back to Iraq in the summer for the first time since U.S. forces withdrew from the country in 2011.
One U.S. military official said one location military advisors would head to soon was western Anbar province, which borders Syria and where Islamic State fighters are still on the offensive.
Iraq’s main military divisions in Anbar – the seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth and twelfth – have been badly damaged. At least 6,000 Iraqi soldiers were killed through June and double that number have deserted, say medical and diplomatic sources.
The announcement came the same day that U.S. President Barack Obama met members of Congress at the White House, where he updated them on the fight against Islamic State in Iraq and in Syria.
The White House will ask Congress for $5.6 billion for the operations in Iraq and Syria, which includes $1.6 billion for the new “Iraq Train and Equip Fund,” the White House Office of Management and Budget said.
Obama has launched air strikes against Islamic State targets in both Syria and Iraq, but he has ruled out sending ground troops into combat.