The US had recently announced the deployment of 217 more troops to Iraq to support the offensive against Mosul. The additional troops will increase US strength in Iraq to over 4,000. The soldiers will be tasked to train and support Iraqi battalions and brigades. Because of the recent slump of the Iraqi army’s performance in the initial incursion against ISIS-held Mosul, US commanders felt adding more training and support to lower-echelon units will aid front-line Iraqi units. Supporting the increase in troops will be additional deployments of AH-64 Apache attack helicopters. Since the US-led campaign against ISIS, America has slowly been increasing its presence in Iraq. While the bulk of soldiers currently serving in Iraq are in advisory roles (a contingent of special operation personnel are currently conducting operations in Iraq and Syria), should Iraq falter against ISIS, a stop-gap measure may be put in place, using US troops in direct combat roles.
While the Iraqi army continues to be plagued by inadequacy, the Kurdish Peshmerga have been performing superbly. Peshmerga and the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) have made significant gains against ISIS. The Kurds defeated ISIS at Kobane at the height of the organization’s strength, holding the strategic Syrian-Turkish border town. The Peshmerga was instrumental in the relief of the Yazidi after ISIS launched a genocidal campaign against the Iraqi minority. The Kurds have cut off the vital supply route connecting Mosul with ISIS’s capital of Raqqa, taking control of Sinjar. Without the supplies and reinforcements from ISIS-held territory into Mosul, the city will grow harder to hold. As the Iraqi army moves south toward Mosul, the Kurds are moving to attack the city from the north and east. Should the Kurds and Iraqis retake the city, ISIS fighters will be forced to withdraw west across the open plains of northern Iraq, providing ripe targets for American and coalition warplanes.
To aid in strengthening the Peshmerga, the US has initiated a $415 million aid and arms package to the Kurds. While the US has provided arms and aid to Iraq, corruption in the Iraqi government has left the Kurds with little support. By-passing the central government, the US is working directly with the Kurdish government in Erbil to provide the support. The package will provide the Peshmerga with state of the art weapons, similar to those provided to American-supported Syrian rebels. With better weapons and American air support, the Kurds may be the linchpin in overtaking ISIS in Mosul. After spending a decade training the Iraqi army (only to have it collapse in the face of danger), the US may be shifting its focus and support to Kurdistan (Kurds fought alongside American troops throughout Operation Iraqi Freedom).