WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S.-led military coalition in Iraq has doubled the size of its adviser corps, reflecting the intensified effort to help Iraqi forces retake the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul, a U.S. officer said Wednesday.
U.S. Air Force Col. John Dorrian, speaking from coalition headquarters in Baghdad, told reporters at the Pentagon that the adviser corps has expanded to roughly 450 "in the last couple of weeks," since Iraqi forces launched what they call "phase two" of the Mosul campaign.
The advisers perform a range of roles, from accompanying Iraqi troops as they move around the battlefield to providing engineering and intelligence support. They are not meant to be involved in direct combat, although they have come under fire at times. One adviser, Navy Chief Petty Officer Jason C. Finan, was killed by a roadside bomb Oct. 20 near Mosul.
Dorrian said for security reasons he could not disclose advisers' specific locations, but he said they are not on the front line of combat.
"They remain behind the forward line of troops," Dorrian said, but added they have entered the city itself "at different times."
The total number of U.S. troops in Iraq is 4,935, by the Pentagon's count. They include trainers, security forces and other support troops.
Dorian said the Iraqis were succeeding in putting IS fighters under greater pressure.
The militants' capture of Mosul in June 2014 led to the start of the U.S.-led bombing campaign and the return of American troops to advise the Iraqi government and retrain its forces. After lengthy preparations, Iraq launched its campaign to recapture the city in October.
Dorrian offered several reasons for the slow pace of their advance. He said the militants have developed well-established defenses in and around the city, and once Iraqi security forces penetrate them, they have to deal with more than 200,000 buildings that are potential death traps.
"You end up having to clear each one," he said. "And that goes from rooftop level, often in four-story or higher buildings, through every single room, and every single closet, and into tunnels that have been dug between these buildings, and sometimes beneath them. And it's just slow-going."
Dorrian also said the U.S. government is consulting with Turkish officials about the type and level of military support for Turkey's campaign against IS militants in the Syrian city of al-Bab. The U.S. had previously said it was not supporting that operation.