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U.S. considers more military advisers for Iraq

By Barbara Starr, CNN Pentagon Correspondent
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The United States may send more military advisers to Iraq
  • The U.S. advisers already there will consider evacuation options
  • The U.S. is helping in the rescue of Yazidi Iraqis on Sinjar Mountain

Washington (CNN) -- The Obama administration is thinking about sending additional military advisers to Iraq as it ramps up efforts to consider how to get thousands of Yazidi Iraqis off Sinjar Mountain and how to boost the capabilities of Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in northern Iraq, a U.S. official said Tuesday.

The official did not want to be named because no decisions have been made yet.

But consideration is being given to sending as many as 75 additional American military personnel to Iraq, a second U.S. military official told CNN.

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President Barack Obama had previously authorized sending as many as 300 advisers to that country.

Currently, 250 U.S. military personnel are in Iraq and are directly involved in the already-approved mission of running two joint operations centers and assessing the capabilities of Iraqi forces. However, the first U.S. official said, their job is expanding to consider evacuation options and the needs of the Peshmerga.

With a new mission, it is expected the White House could make a new War Powers notification to Congress to send additional personnel outside the 300-person limit for the new short duration task of assessing the Peshmerga and developing options for evacuations.

Obama said the United States is looking for ways the international community can band together to rescue those who have been stranded by the fighting. "The next step, which is going to be complicated logistically, is how do we give safe passage for people down from the mountain, and where can we ultimately relocate them so that they are safe. That's the kind of coordination that we need to do internationally," Obama said on Saturday.

Pentagon officials said one of the first steps is getting a clearer picture of how many people are still stranded, so planning for evacuation options can begin. "We're currently assessing what we can and can't do and trying to understand, for example, the numbers that are on the mountain itself. The numbers vary. I've seen reports of numbers in the thousands, and I've seen reports in the numbers of tens of thousands," Lt. Gen. William Mayville, director of operations on the Pentagon Joint Staff, told reporters Monday.

One U.S. defense official said that while some people have escaped through humanitarian corridors, the United States believes anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 people potentially could still be on the mountain, although the actual number is not known. With those numbers, any operation, whether by air or land, could take weeks. All of the officials CNN has spoken to say the administration has ruled out putting U.S. troops on the ground, but some rescue options -- for example, using helicopters -- could involve a brief U.S. ground presence.

U.S. officials do believe that any rescue option, such as Peshmerga forces going in, or the establishment of additional safe passage corridors on the ground, still require a heavy U.S. air combat presence to suppress ISIS militants from attacking. On Monday, U.S. fighter jets attacked several ISIS positions near Mount Sinjar, including checkpoints, which is part of the effort to begin to push them back, the U.S. official said.

Kurdish Peshmerga fighters have requested additional arms supplies from the United States, the first U.S. official noted. If additional U.S. advisers are sent, part of the their expanded role will be to assess the capabilities of the Peshmerga and see what else is needed beyond the resupply of ammunition.

Mayville hinted at this Monday as well, telling reporters that some of the militant forces have longer-range weapons systems "so we need to make sure that the government of Iraq and the Iraqi security forces are providing longer-range weapons themselves to the Kurdish forces."

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