TAJI, Iraq — As the U.S. mission to Iraq expands, so do its efforts to arm and train the country’s security forces to combat the Islamic State group, with large-scale operations continuing to recapture territory from the Sunni militants.

Hundreds of American advisers are working at the Camp Taji military base just north of Baghdad to train Iraqi forces on issues like weaponry and better coordination and integration of ground action with coalition airstrikes.

The goal, U.S. military officials say, is to teach the different divisions of the Iraqi military how to harmonize the operations of its various fighting units.

“This Iraqi commander … has a company worth of infantry soldiers, he’s got some armor assets from the Iraqi army, he’s got two helicopters that are flying … and then he’s got engineers and (explosive ordinance disposal),” said Maj. Russell Wagner, one of the U.S. officers conducting training.

They “are all out here working in unison in order to get him through this obstacle and into the town that lies beyond,” Wagner said.

In November, President Obama authorized the deployment of up to 1,500 more American troops to bolster Iraqi forces, which could more than double the total of U.S. forces to 3,100. The boost in advisers and trainers complements the air campaign launched by the U.S. in August 2014.


The Iraqi military has struggled to recover from its collapse in June when the Islamic State group captured the country’s second-largest city, Mosul, and swept over much of northern Iraq. In the face of the advance, commanders disappeared. Pleas for more ammunition went unanswered. In some cases, soldiers stripped off their uniforms and ran.

Twelve U.S. advisory teams have been operating in Iraq since August, stationed in joint operations centers in Baghdad and Irbil, as well as in some of the outer provinces, including volatile Anbar province, which has been under partial control of the militant group since early 2014.

The Iraqi military – backed by at least 20,000 Shiite militiamen – is fighting to regain control of Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit, one of several predominantly Sunni towns to fall to the militants last year.

It’s one of the first major operations in which the U.S.-led coalition is not taking part, with U.S. officials saying they weren’t asked to participate.

Iranian advisers have played a prominent role on the front lines of Iraq’s Salahuddin province.

At the Salahuddin command center at Tikrit University, ambulances come and go with a handful of Iraqi soldiers, injured in clashes with the Islamic State group.

Operations to recapture Tikrit have been on hold for nearly a week, with Iraqi officials saying they’re trying to minimize casualties by not rushing the final assault.

Across the grounds of the university-turned-command center, several bodies lie decomposing on the pavement. The unburied corpses are allegedly of Islamic State militants, and senior Iraqi military officials say they are kept there to raise fighter morale and remind them of victories past.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.