HILL AIR FORCE BASE — Officials from Hill Air Force Base say they don’t expect any of their Airmen to be sent to Iraq immediately if Congress approves a plan to bolster U.S. military forces there.
Last week, President Obama asked Congress for a new $5.6 billion plan to expand the U.S. mission in Iraq and send up to 1,500 more American troops to the war-torn nation.
Obama authorized the deployment of advisory teams and trainers to bolster struggling Iraqi forces across the country, including into Iraq’s western Anbar province where fighting with Islamic State militants has been fierce. Obama’s plan could boost the total number of American troops in Iraq to 3,100. There are currently about 1,400 U.S. troops there, out of the 1,600 previously authorized.
On Nov. 14, base spokesman Micah Garbarino said Hill does not currently have Airmen stationed in Iraq.
“We don’t currently have any Airmen deployed, or deploying to Iraq,” Garbarino said in an email to the Standard-Examiner.
The nation’s top military leader told Congress on Nov. 13 that the U.S. would consider dispatching a modest number of American forces to fight with Iraqi troops as they engage in more complex missions in the campaign against Islamic State militants.
Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Iraqi forces are doing a better job, but he said an effort to move into Mosul or to restore the border with Syria would require more complex operations.
“I’m not predicting at this point that I would recommend that those forces in Mosul and along the border would need to be accompanied by U.S. forces, but we’re certainly considering it,” Dempsey told the House Armed Services Committee.
He added that the U.S. has a modest force in Iraq now, and “any expansion of that, I think, would be equally modest. I just don’t foresee a circumstance when it would be in our interest to take this fight on ourselves with a large military contingent.”
Dempsey’s assessment echoed his testimony to Congress in September at the start of the three-month campaign against the militants who have seized parts of Iraq and Syria.
Joining him at the witness table was Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who said the coalition was making progress in the fight against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, but the American people must prepare for a long and difficult struggle.
Hagel said the “pressure is having an effect on potential ISIL recruits and collaborators … striking a blow to morale and recruitment. We know that. Our intelligence is very clear on that.”
Since 2003, Airmen from Hill have had a steady presence in Iraq, a presence that included three Hill casualties.
Tech Sgt. Timothy Weiner, Senior Airman Daniel Miller and Senior Airman Elizabeth Loncki were all killed together in Iraq on Jan. 7, 2007 when the trio was trying to defuse a car bomb and it exploded.