Iraq crisis: First of 300 American military 'advisors' expected on the ground by tomorrow

 

Defence Correspondent

The first contingent of the 300 American military advisors being sent to Iraq are expected on the ground tomorrow, with the rest arriving in the next 48 hours.

Most will be drawn, according to defence sources, from the Green Berets, Army Rangers and Navy Seals, who have extensive experience in Iraq and Afghanistan both in training and fighting alongside local forces. They will be joined by Air Force ground support teams for the possible eventuality of Barack Obama deciding to go ahead with air strikes. CIA intelligence teams, who are already in the country, will be augmented by extra personnel.

The US President has stressed that those being sent will not take part in combat, but charges are certain to follow of the danger of "mission creep" - the American military being sucked into a sectarian conflict between Iraqi forces whose higher ranks have been filled with Shias by the government of Nour al-Maliki and the Sunni fighters of Isis [Islamic State of Iraq and Syria] and its allies.

Lieutenant General Jay Garner, who was head of the US-British civil administration after the invasion, said: “When you send 300 there, that’s not enough; you have to send a few more, then a few more”. The general, who was replaced by Paul Bremer, the man responsible for carrying out the de-Baathification process which had such catastrophic results, added: “That is how you get mission creep.”

 

The arrival of the Americans also raise intriguing questions about just how much they will cooperate with the commander of the Iranian al-Quds force, General Qassim Suleimani, who is in Iraq with his own team of advisors. Dozens of officers from Tehran have already set up operation centres in Baghdad and other cities, organising Iraqi forces as well as the Shia militias.

General David Petraeus, who led the surge which countered the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), the predecessor of Isis, described General Suleimani, who wielded great control over the Shia insurgency against American and British forces in Iraq following the US-led invasion as a “truly evil figure”.

While in a de facto alliance in Iraq, the Iranian commander has been organizing "volunteers" from his country and Hezbullah fighters from Lebanon fighting for Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, while the Americans train the opposition Free Syrian Army in Jordan.

General Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who was a commander in Baghdad in 2003 and 2004 when the insurgency first erupted, has taken charge of planning for the operation. Special focus, it is claimed, are to avoid collateral damage amd civilian casualties, with evidence that Isis fighters have based themselves among civilian residents in cities like Mosul.

Senior American officers, including former ones with experience in Iraq will, it is believed, be consulted as the mission evolves. In particular General Petraeus, who helped organize the "Sunni Awakening" to combat ISI seven years ago, is likely to be asked to advise on tribal leaders, some of whom have switched sides in the current uprising after the Maliki government failed to fulfill pledges made to them over payments and integrating their fighters into the country’s armed forces.

The American teams will be initially based in two operational centres, one in Baghdad, the other in Kurdistan in the north. A third, the Balad airbase, may be used in the future as a logistical hub; Washington is not, for the time being, planning to base warplanes there.

The US has, meanwhile, stepped up reconnaissance flights over Iraq in preparation for the deployment. Yesterday, 34 manned and unmanned aircraft flew over the conflict zones, including F-18s from an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf and P-3 surveillance planes from bases in the region.

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