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U.S. To Deploy 450 More Troops To Iraq


The U.S. is going to deploy more military trainers to Iraq. President Obama has approved sending 450 more Americans in the effort to take back Anbar province from the self-proclaimed Islamic State. That's the largely Sunni region which stretches west from Baghdad to the border with Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Iraqi government forces have done poorly against ISIS. We have NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman in the studio this morning for more. Good morning.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Now, this means about 3,500 American military personnel will be back in Iraq. What is the immediate goal of sending in these extra trainers?

BOWMAN: Well, Renee, they'll be providing basic combat training to the Sunni tribal fighters in Anbar province. That's the Sunni heartland just west of Baghdad. And they'll be working out of a base near the provincial capital of Ramadi, which, of course, was taken over by ISIS. The base where these trainers will be working is called Taqaddum. The Marines called it TQ when they were stationed there during the war. And besides providing training, just the presence of these Americans at the training site and the operations center, the sense is that it will help kind of stiffen the spines of these fighters for the eventual operation to take back Ramadi. Now, the American and Australian forces already have trained some of the Sunni tribal fighters in the western part of the province, and they say that has helped the security situation there.

MONTAGNE: And what does the Pentagon think Sunni Muslims, in particular - exactly what can Sunnis do that will help turn Iraq's fortunes around?

BOWMAN: Well, again, in the short term, take back the city of Ramadi and provide security for this area of Anbar province.

MONTAGNE: Which is, of course, Sunni.

BOWMAN: Absolutely. Right. And now, the longer term, officials say the Sunni minority would have to be part of a unified Iraq. Now, right now the Sunnis feel mistreated, ignored by the Shia-led government. And some of them are actually supporting ISIS. Others are on the fence. So this effort is designed to kind of bring them back into the fold.

MONTAGNE: The president has turned to a retired Marine general, John Allen, to coordinate the strategy against ISIS. And just last week, he discussed this kind of approach with NPR's Deb Amos.

BOWMAN: That's right. General Allen worked with the Sunni tribes when he served in Iraq during the war. He has very good relations with them, and he's been kind of going back and forth between the government and the tribes. And he spoke about what he calls the longer-term goal here. Let's listen.


GENERAL JOHN ALLEN: We'll work very closely with Iraqi security forces to assist them in the recovery of their country. But the longer-term goal is to seek to create the political conditions under which real reconciliation can occur.

MONTAGNE: General John Allen. And Tom, can that reconciliation occur?

BOWMAN: Well, General Allen says as a new sense of urgency within the Iraqi government for reconciliation since the fall of Ramadi to ISIS forces, he says he thinks there's more of a willingness to work with the Sunni tribes, allow them to have a greater say in governance of their province. But there's growing pessimism with some military officials I talk with. There's a sense that this is a losing effort right now, that ISIS is on the move, and that the country, they say, could just split apart because they can't resolve these basic sectarian issues.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Thanks for join us.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Renee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.
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