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Pentagon plans to send more troops to Iraq: Top US officer

The Pentagon is planning to deploy additional American combat troops in Iraq to accelerate military operations against Daesh terrorists, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

General Joseph Dunford said Friday the Pentagon will submit proposals to President Barack Obama on how to boost military support to Iraqi forces.

“We have a series of recommendations that we will discuss with the president in the coming weeks to further enable our support for the Iraqi security forces,” the top military officer said at a Pentagon briefing.

Dunford maintained that he and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter were of the opinion that “there will be an increase in US forces in Iraq in coming weeks, but that decision hasn’t been made.”

The recommendations will address the question of how the US can “enable” Iraqi forces in their efforts to liberate Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq.

The Iraqi armed forces launched a military operation early on Thursday to oust Daesh from its stronghold in northern Iraq. It is the first phase of a large-scale offensive that Baghdad plans to conclude this year with the complete recapture of Mosul.

Iraqi civilians flash the sign for victory as they drive towards a safe area on March 10, 2016 after government forces retook the town of Zankura, northwest of Ramadi, in Anbar Province. (AFP photo)

Gen. Dunford did not say how many additional troops would be deployed in Iraq, but acknowledged that the US force level in the country had already exceeded the authorized level of 3,870 approved by President Obama.

Pentagon officials have quietly said that the actual number is closer to 5,000 when accounting for troops considered to be on “temporary” deployment.

Increasing the US military footprint in Iraq is a sensitive topic for the Obama administration, which has repeatedly vowed not to deploy ground forces there.

Earlier this week, US military officials confirmed that US Marines were operating from a small outpost in Iraq, providing targeting assistance and artillery fire to Iraqi forces as they march toward Mosul.

In recent weeks, the US military has stepped up airstrikes targeting Daesh leadership, command and control structure, and financing. A number of senior Daesh leaders have reportedly been killed in the strikes.

Carter, who was also present at the Friday briefing, said a US special operations team had killed the top Daesh terrorist in Syria during a pre-dawn raid the day before.

“We are systematically eliminating ISIL’s cabinet,” the Pentagon chief said. “The removal of this ISIL leader will hamper the organization’s ability to conduct operations both inside and outside of Iraq and Syria.”

Daesh terrorists, who were initially trained by the CIA in Jordan in 2012 to destabilize the Syrian government, now control large parts of Iraq and Syria. They are engaged in crimes against humanity in the areas under their control.

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