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U.S. troops may return to Middle East to train Iraqis

Jan. 17, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
IRAQ-POLITICS-UNREST-FALLUJAH
Damaged cars are seen under a bridge in Fallujah, Iraq on Jan.17, following days of fighting between Iraqi security forces and the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Four neighborhoods in the city came under heavy shelling late on January 16, witnesses and officials said. (Sadam El-mehmedy/AFP via Getty Images)
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The Pentagon is considering sending U.S. troops back to the Middle East to help train Iraqi forces, defense officials said Friday.

It is unclear whether troops would be sent directly into Iraq or possibly conduct training in a nearby country such as Jordan. “We are in continuing discussions about how we can improve the Iraqi military,” Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, said Friday.

The idea of sending U.S. military trainers back to Iraq for the first time since 2011 is one the Pentagon has emphatically rejected in recent years, but on Friday, Warren offered a carefully worded statement that did not rule out the possibility.

The move comes in response to the deepening crisis in Anbar province, where militants have seized parts of Fallujah.

Iraq President Nouri al-Maliki said this week that he would support a new U.S. military training mission for Iraqi counterterrorism troops in neighboring Jordan, marking the first time he has expressed support for such a plan, according to a report in the Washington Post.

In addition to discussions about trainers, the Pentagon is also fast-tracking approval for a shipment of small arms and ammunition to the Iraqi military, Warren said.

Another defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the Pentagon also may be considering a larger shipment of arms that would require notification of Congress. “We are processing a wide range of requests [from the Iraqis’] for continued support,” the defense official said.

Currently, fewer than 300 American troops are in Iraq, all operating under the command of the civilian-run U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. About half of those are Marines providing security at the embassy

In addition, more than 100 uniformed troops are running the Office of Security Cooperation, which has funneled military aid to the Iraqis and maintained U.S. ties to Iraqi leaders since the U.S. military mission formally ended in 2011.

The U.S does not have a current Status of Forces Agreement with Iraq because the Iraqis in 2011 refused to provide legal immunity for U.S. troops to operate inside the country. Iraq’s failure to agree to legal immunity was a key factor in the decision to withdraw all American forces two years ago.

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