President Obama is considering a Pentagon plan to establish a new training base and send about 500 additional U.S. troops to advise Iraqi security forces in the battle against Islamic State militants, according to U.S. officials.
If approved, the plan will mark a deepening U.S. commitment to its nearly yearlong fight against the Sunni extremists, who have gained new ground through military victories in recent weeks.
Obama has been weighing the escalation of U.S. involvement while traveling to Germany for a meeting with world leaders, including Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi.
However, Obama has not yet made a decision, officials said.
Under the plan, American military personnel could set up at a new base in embattled Anbar province or deploy to four bases across Iraq where trainees are taught about tactical organization, logistics and intelligence to boost their ability to counter Islamic State fighters.
“These are valid courses of action that are being considered,” said one official, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
The total U.S. force in Iraq is now about 3,100 troops, who are advising, training and providing base security.
Officials said the additional advisors would not be accompanying Iraqi troops on combat operations, in keeping with Obama’s vow not to send ground troops back to Iraq.
The new troops will be expected to help the Iraqis break Islamic State's grip on sprawling Anbar province, which is home to much of the country’s Sunni population.
The fall of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar, was a reminder of the larger disintegration of the military last June when Islamic State forces seized the northern city of Mosul and other parts of Iraq that they still hold.
Other governments and coalition forces have sent hundreds of additional personnel to train Iraqi brigades, but little progress has been made to dislodge the militants.
In addition, Iraq has seen a sharp increase in car bombings and suicide attacks in recent weeks, a tactic the militants appear to be using to avoid exposing themselves to air attacks by the U.S. and its allies.
But the failure to recruit and produce higher-quality Iraqi troops has frustrated U.S. military officials, as well as the president. The Pentagon said 8,920 Iraqis have completed training, with 2,601 more currently making their way through the program.
“We don’t yet have a complete strategy,” Obama told reporters Monday, “because it requires commitments on the part of the Iraqis, as well about how recruitment takes place, how that training takes place.”