U.S. officials are developing plans to use a small number of U.S. special operations forces in Jordan to train Iraqi troops as part of a broader effort to help Iraq fight the growing al-Qaeda threat within its borders.
There has been no official request from Iraq yet for the training, but U.S. military leaders and Iraqi officials have been discussing how it would be done, said a senior U.S. official, who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly so spoke on condition of anonymity. A formal request from Baghdad will likely follow, once the details are worked out.
Separately, legislative aides said Thursday that Congress cleared the way for the United States to provide Iraq with new military equipment to aid its battle against al-Qaeda. Last week the Pentagon announced that it would soon deliver another installment of small arms and ammunition to the Iraqis, who have been battling militants over the control of Fallujah and Ramadi, the provincial capital of Anbar. The shipment was expected to include tank ammunition and Hellfire air-to-surface missiles, and the relevant congressional committees have approved that sale.
Sen. Bob Menendez, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and others had been blocking the long-term transfer of Apache helicopters to Iraq. The concerns centered on the Iraqi government potentially using them for internal crackdowns instead of national defense, and senators repeatedly had pressed the State Department for answers.
Helicopter sale to clear
The aides said Thursday the helicopter sale could clear soon. They demanded anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
Over the past year, as violence has escalated in Baghdad and in Sunni-dominated areas, Iraqi officials have pleaded with Washington to help them fight al-Qaeda with weapons and improved intelligence systems — including, potentially, sending U.S. special military forces and CIA advisers to help train and assist counterterror troops.
The missiles are expected to be sent soon while delivery of new Apaches will take up to three years. The U.S. plans to lend some of the helicopters to the Iraqis in six months to nine months.
The Iraqi training may not begin until the summer. Jordanian officials said Sunday it would host the training after al-Qaeda militants seized control of the two towns in Anbar province where some of the worst battles of the Iraq war occurred.
Already there are roughly 1,500 U.S. troops in Jordan, including a small number of special operations forces who would likely be used to train the Iraqis. U.S. forces have been in Jordan since last year, when the Obama administration decided to leave many there who were working with Jordanian troops to bolster the country's defences as the violence in neighbouring Syria intensified. The U.S. also left fighter jets and a Patriot anti-missile battery there.
Leaders meet in Washington
Iraqi leaders have been in Washington this week, and met Wednesday with Vice President Joe Biden to discuss the need for political and military efforts to fight terrorism in Iraq. U.S. President Barack Obama dropped in on the meeting, which also included discussions about formally integrating local and tribal forces that have been helping the Shiite-led government try to wrest back control of territory taken by members of Iraq's al-Qaeda branch.
The training and equipping effort is about the most Washington can do since pulling American troops out of Iraq in December 2011. Obama had hoped to leave a residual U.S. force behind but failed to reach agreement with Iraq on ensuring immunity for American soldiers from local jurisdiction.
Nearly 4,500 U.S. troops were killed in Iraq between the 2003 invasion and the 2011 withdrawal. More than 100,000 Iraqis were killed in that time.