US orders more troops to Iraq, but no overhaul of strategy

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Expected US Troop Boost in Iraq Won't Satisfy Critics

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama ordered the deployment of up to 450 more American troops to Iraq on Wednesday in an effort to reverse major battlefield losses to the Islamic State, an escalation but not a significant shift in the struggling U.S. strategy to defeat the extremist group.

The U.S. forces will open a fifth training site in the country, this one dedicated specifically to helping the Iraqi Army integrate Sunni tribes into the fight, an element seen as a crucial to driving the Islamic State out of the Sunni-majority areas of western Iraq.

The immediate objective is to win back the key city of Ramadi, which was seized by extremists last month.

The U.S. is insistent that Americans will not have a combat role. But in the deployment of American forces and the equipping of Iraqi troops, the U.S. must make sure "that we can be nimble because clearly this is a very nimble enemy," Deputy National Security Adviser Benjamin Rhodes told reporters.

The plan is not a change in the U.S. strategy, the administration says, but addresses a need to get Sunnis more involved in the fight. Some local citizens in Sunni-majority areas fear an invasion and reprisals from Iran-backed Shiite militia even more than domination by the Islamic State, underscoring a need for any military campaign there to be led by local fighters.

But the Shiite-led Iraqi government's record in recruiting Sunni tribesman has been mixed at best, slowing efforts to regain Ramadi and Fallujah, a nearby city that Islamic State militants have held for more than a year. Iraqi leaders fear that Sunni fighters, once armed, could turn against the government, and they have deployed most U.S.-trained Iraqi troops in defensive formations around Baghdad, the capital.

Obama this week lamented that the U.S. lacks a "complete strategy" for defeating the Islamic State, and officials pointed to a glaring lack of recruits among Sunnis. Wednesday's announcement of a new training site at al-Taqaddum, a desert air base that was a U.S. military hub during the 2003-2011 war, is designed to fix that. The additional troops will include advisers, trainers, logisticians and security personnel.

But the changes don't go nearly far enough for critics of the administration's approach. They have pressed for military coordinators and advisers closer to the front lines to augment the U.S. airstrike campaign.

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US orders more troops to Iraq, but no overhaul of strategy
TOPSHOT - Iraqi girls hold makeshift white flags as they flee with their families a military operation by Iraqi security personnel aimed at retaking areas from Islamic State group jihadists, in the desert west of the city of Samarra on March 3, 2016. Counter-terrorism forces, soldiers, police and allied paramilitaries are taking part in an operation launched on March 1, which is backed by artillery and both Iraqi and US-led coalition aircraft, aimed at retaking areas north of Baghdad, according to the Joint Operations Command. / AFP / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE (Photo credit should read AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images)
Iraqi soldiers patrol the site of an army position where an attack was carried out by the Islamic State (IS) group jihadists in the Abu Ghraib area west of the Iraqi capital Baghdad, on February 29, 2016. The jihadists attacked the position early in the morning and held it until government reinforcements arrived and took it back later in the day, the officials said. The Abu Ghraib violence killed at least eight people, including both members of the security forces and allied paramilitaries, and wounded at least 22, while IS members were also killed, officials said. / AFP / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE (Photo credit should read AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images)
Iraqi soldiers patrol a suburb close to the area of Jweibah, east of the city of Ramadi, the capital of Iraq's Anbar province on February 4, 2016. Iraqi forces declared victory in December in the battle for Ramadi after wresting back control of the city's central government complex from the Islamic State (IS) group. / AFP / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE (Photo credit should read AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - A member of Iraq's elite counter-terrorism service sits in a vehicle after being wounded in fighting the Islamic State group's jihadists in the al-Sajariyah area, east of the city of Ramadi, the capital of Iraq's Anbar province, 120 kilometers west of Baghdad, on February 3, 2016. Iraqi forces declared victory in December in the Ramadi battle after wresting back control of the city's central government complex from the Islamic State group. / AFP / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE (Photo credit should read AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images)
An Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga stands guard near the Mosul Dam on the Tigris River, around 50 kilometres north of the city of Mosul, on February 1, 2016. The United States is monitoring Iraq's largest dam for signs of further deterioration that could point to an impending catastrophic collapse, US army officers said on January 28, 2016. The Islamic State (IS) jihadist group seized the Mosul Dam briefly in 2014, leading to a lapse in maintenance that weakened an already flawed structure, and Baghdad is seeking a company to make repairs. / AFP / SAFIN HAMED (Photo credit should read SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images)
Iraqi pro-government forces fire a rocket during clashes with Islamic State (IS) group fighters, on the eastern outskirts of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province on January 31, 2016. / AFP / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE (Photo credit should read AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images)
An Iraqi Sunni fighter from the Popular Mobilisation units, walks as he monitors the frontline near the town of Al-Fatha north of the Salaheddin province during an operation to protect the nearby Ajeel and Alas oil fields. The oil fields in the area are strategic as Islamic State (IS) fighters are eying them as potential revenue sources. / AFP / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE (Photo credit should read AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - Iraqi forces secure an area in Ramadi, the capital of Iraq's Anbar province, on January 10, 2016, after retaking the city from Islamic State (IS) group jihadists. Iraqi forces pushed out of central Ramadi on January 1, 2016 to extend their grip on the city, sweeping neighbourhoods for pockets of jihadists to flush out and trapped civilians to evacuate. / AFP / STRINGER (Photo credit should read STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)
A member of Iraq's elite counter-terrorism service flashes the 'V' for victory sign as smoke from a controlled explosion billows in the background on December 29, 2015 on the outskirts of Ramadi, the capital of Iraq's Anbar province, about 110 kilometers west of Baghdad, after Iraqi forces recaptured it from the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group. Iraq declared the city of Ramadi liberated from the Islamic State group Monday and raised the national flag over its government complex after clinching a landmark victory against the jihadists. AFP PHOTO / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE (Photo credit should read AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images)
An Iraqi Shiite fighter from the Popular Mobilisation units looks on in the town of Saqlawiya on the outskirts of Fallujah, 50kms west of Baghdad, on July 26, 2015. Iraqi government forces gained control over Al-Anbar University from Islamic State (IS) Group, near Ramadi, a key position to reclaim the provincial capital, according to officials. AFP PHOTO/ AHMAD AL-RUBAYE (Photo credit should read AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images)
Members of the allied Iraqi forces consisting of the Iraqi army and fighters from the Popular Mobilisation units, load heavy artillery on the front line during battles with Islamic State (IS) group jihadists on the road leading to Saqlawiya, north of Fallujah, in Iraq's Anbar province on August 4, 2015. Anbar, Iraq's largest province, has been rocked by violence since the beginning of 2014, months before the IS jihadist group launched a massive nationwide offensive that saw it conquer swathes of the country. AFP PHOTO / HAIDAR MOHAMMED ALI (Photo credit should read HAIDAR MOHAMMED ALI/AFP/Getty Images)
Iraqi pro-government fighters from the mianly-Shiite Popular Mobilisation units inspect an office in a government building which was used as a base by the radical Islamic State (IS) group in the town of Saqlawiya on the outskirts of Fallujah, 50kms west of Baghdad, on July 26, 2015. Iraqi government forces gained control over Al-Anbar University from jihadists, near Ramadi, a key position to reclaim the provincial capital, according to officials. AFP PHOTO/ AHMAD AL-RUBAYE (Photo credit should read AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images)
BAGHDAD, IRAQ - JULY 23: Iraqi military train at the Counter Terrorism Service training location, as observed by U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter in Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, July 23, 2015. Carter is on a weeklong tour of the Middle East focused on reassuring allies about Iran and assessing progress in the coalition campaign against the Islamic State group militants in Syria and Iraq. (Photo by Carolyn Kaster - Pool/Getty Images)
Security forces defend their headquarters against attacks by Islamic State extremists during sand storm in the eastern part of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, 115 kilometers (70 miles) west of Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, May 14, 2015. Islamic State extremists tend to take advantage of bad weather when they attack Iraqi security forces positions, an Iraqi officer said. (AP Photo)
Security forces defend their headquarters against attacks by Islamic State extremists during sand storm in the eastern part of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, 115 kilometers (70 miles) west of Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, May 14, 2015. Islamic State extremists tend to take advantage of bad weather when they attack Iraqi security forces positions, an Iraqi officer said. (AP Photo)
AP10ThingsToSee - A plume of smoke rises after an airstrike by the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State group positions in an eastern neighborhood of Ramadi, Iraq, the capital of Anbar province, 70 miles (115 kilometers) west of Baghdad. (AP Photo)
Iraqi security forces and Shiite fighters from the Popular Mobilisation units hold a the emblem of the Islamic State (IS) group as they gather outside the provincial council building in Tikrit, on April 1, 2015, a day after the prime minister declared victory in the weeks-long battle to retake the city from IS jihadists. Iraqi forces battled the last jihadists the northern city on April 1, 2015 to seal a victory the government described as a milestone in efforts to rid the country of the Islamic State group. AFP PHOTO / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE (Photo credit should read AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images)
Iraqi security forces and Shiite fighters from the Popular Mobilisation units gather next to a mural depicting the emblem of the Islamic State (IS) group outside one of the presidential palaces in Tikrit, on April 1, 2015, a day after the prime minister declared victory in the weeks-long battle to retake the city from the IS group. Iraqi forces battled the last jihadists the northern city on April 1, 2015 to seal a victory the government described as a milestone in efforts to rid the country of the Islamic State group. AFP PHOTO / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE (Photo credit should read AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images)
Iraqi government forces fire a locally made rocket from a position on the southern outskirts of Tikrit, on March 30, 2015, during a military operation to retake the city from Islamic State (IS) group jihadists. Retaking Tikrit, where jihadists have rigged streets and buildings with explosives, will require 'major sacrifices' on the part of Iraqi forces, a senior intelligence officer said. AFP PHOTO/AHMAD AL-RUBAYE (Photo credit should read AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images)
A Shiite fighter from the Popular Mobilisation units celebrates outside the provincial council building in Tikrit, on April 1, 2015, a day after the prime minister declared victory in the weeks-long battle to retake the city from the Islamic State (IS) group. Iraqi forces battled the last jihadists the northern city on April 1, 2015 to seal a victory the government described as a milestone in efforts to rid the country of the Islamic State group. AFP PHOTO / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE (Photo credit should read AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images)
Shiite fighters from the Popular Mobilisation units pose in front of a mural depicting the emblem of the Islamic State (IS) group outside one of the presidential palaces in Tikrit, on April 1, 2015, a day after the prime minister declared victory in the weeks-long battle to retake the city from the IS group. Iraqi forces battled the last jihadists the northern city on April 1, 2015 to seal a victory the government described as a milestone in efforts to rid the country of the Islamic State group. AFP PHOTO / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE (Photo credit should read AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images)
Iraqi policemen stand next to Islamic State (IS) group ammunition in the Al-Alam town, northeast of the Iraqi city of Tikrit, on March 17, 2015 after recapturing the town from IS fighters earlier in the month. Loyalists had already failed three times to retake the nearby city of Tikrit, the hometown of Saddam Hussein, which was captured by IS last summer. AFP PHOTO / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE (Photo credit should read AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images)
An Iraqi Sunni woman holds an Iraqi flag upon returning back to the Al-Alam town, northeast of the Iraqi city of Tikrit, on March 17, 2015 after the town was recaptured by Sunni and Shiite fighters from the Asaib Ahl al-Haq group, an Iranian-backed Shiite militia, from Islamic State (IS) fighters earlier in the month. Loyalists had already failed three times to retake the nearby city of Tikrit, the hometown of Saddam Hussein, which was captured by IS last summer. AFP PHOTO / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE (Photo credit should read AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images)
The Iraqi Shiite militant group called Imam Ali Brigades review the battle plan at the front line with the Islamic State group in Tikrit, 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday, March 14, 2015. Iraqi military officials have said they expect to reach the center of Tikrit within two to three days. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)
A woman who fled from Tikrit, Iraq, because she feared Islamic State militants sits by an over while baking bread at a refugee camp outside Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, March 18, 2015. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim)
A volunteer with a Shiite militant group called Imam Ali Brigades holds his weapon at an overwatch position as the sun sets after clashes at the front line with Islamic State group extremists in Tikrit, 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, March 17, 2015. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)
Smoke rises after clashes between Iraqi security forces and allied Shiite militiamen and Islamic State group extremists in the Qadisiyya neighborhood in Tikrit, 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, March 17, 2015. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)
In this Monday, April 20, 2015 photo, a Sunni fighter stands guard on the frontline with the Islamic State group outside the city of Makhmour, northern Iraq while holding a PKC machine gun. When Islamic State militants swept across northern Iraq last summer the Sunni al-Lehib tribe welcomed them as revolutionaries fighting the Shiite-led government in Baghdad, but less than a year later the tribe is bitterly split between those who joined the extremist group and those resisting its brutal rule.(AP Photo/Bram Janssen)
Iraqi fighters chant slogans against extremists at the front line during a battle against Islamic State militants in Tikrit, 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, March 16, 2015. The offensive to retake Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit began March 2. The city is one of the largest held by the Islamic State militants on the road connected Baghdad and Mosul. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)
Children who fled from Tikrit, Iraq, because their families feared Islamic State militants spend time at a refugee camp outside Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, March 18, 2015. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim)
FILE - In this Saturday, March 14, 2015 file combo of six photos shows members of Iraqi Shiite militia called the Imam Ali Brigades, posing for portraits during a break in fighting with Islamic State group fighters near the front line in Tikrit, 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of Baghdad, Iraq. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed, File)
A member of Peace Brigades, a Shiite militia group loyal to Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, heading to Tikrit, where Iraqi troops backed by Shiite fighters and Iranian advisers are fighting extremists, shows a v-sign as another waves a representation of the Iraqi flag, while driving off Baghdad, Iraq, Sunday, March 15, 2015. Dozens of fighters with the militia loyal to the radical Shiite cleric left Iraq's capital Sunday to take part in an offensive to capture Tikrit from the Islamic State group. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim)
An Iraqi soldier watches the movements of the enemy at the front line in Tikrit, 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of Baghdad, Iraq, Friday, March 13, 2015. Iraqi forces entered Tikrit for the first time on Wednesday from the north and south. On Friday, they fought fierce battles to secure the northern Tikrit neighborhood of Qadisiyya and lobbed mortars and rockets into the city center, still in the hands of IS. Iraqi military officials have said they expect to reach the center of Tikrit within two to three days. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)
Members of Peace Brigades, a Shiite militia group loyal to Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, heading to Tikrit, where Iraqi troops backed by Shiite fighters and Iranian advisers are fighting extremists, prepare to leave Baghdad, Iraq, Sunday, March 15, 2015. Dozens of fighters with the militia loyal to the radical Shiite cleric left Iraq's capital Sunday to take part in an offensive to capture Tikrit from the Islamic State group. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim)
Smoke rises after clashes at Qadisiyah neighborhood in Tikrit, 80 miles (130 kilometers) north of Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, March 12, 2015. Iraqi troops clashed along two fronts with Islamic State militants in Tikrit on Thursday as rockets and mortars echoed across Saddam Hussein's hometown a day after soldiers and allied Shiite militiamen swept into this Sunni city north of Baghdad. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)
Iraqi Army armored vehicles prepare to attack Islamic State extremists in Tikrit, 80 miles (130 kilometers) north of Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, March 12, 2015. Rockets and mortars echoed across Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit on Thursday as Iraqi security forces clashed with Islamic State militants a day after sweeping into the Sunni city north of Baghdad. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)
Members of a Shiite group, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, or League of the Righteous, flash V signs for victory during a funeral procession of six of their comrades killed in Tikrit fighting Islamic State militants, in Najaf, 100 miles (160 kilometers) south of Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, March 5, 2015. Iranian-backed Shiite militias and Sunni tribes have joined Iraq's military in a major operation to retake Tikrit from the Islamic State group, while the U.S. led coalition has remained on the sidelines. (AP Photo/Jaber al-Helo)
An Iraqi refugee girl from Mosul stands outside her family's tent at Khazir refugee camp outside Irbil, 217 miles (350 kilometers) north of Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, June 12, 2014. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the al-Qaida breakaway group, on Monday and Tuesday took over much of Mosul in Iraq and then swept into the city of Tikrit further south. An estimated half a million residents fled Mosul, the economically important city. (AP Photo)
Iraqi fighters from the Popular Mobilisation units carry the coffin of their comrade Mostafa Hassan Shakir, a student from the University of Kufa who died in fighting against Islamic State (IS) fighters in the northern city of Tikrit, during his funeral on March 17, 2015 in the Shiite shrine city of Najaf. Shakir is the first student from the university of Kufa to die in the offensive to retake Tirkit, the capital of Salaheddin province, from IS group which began on March 2, 2015. Iraqi forces have tried and failed three times before to retake the city, which was the hometown of executed dictator Saddam Hussein. AFP PHOTO / HAIDAR HAMDANI (Photo credit should read HAIDAR HAMDANI/AFP/Getty Images)
TIKRIT, IRAQ - MARCH 11: An elderly women hugs a soldier after the clashes in their neighborhood between Iraqi army forces, supported by Shiite militias, and Daesh (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) finished and they safely reach their homes, in Tikrit, Iraq on March 11, 2015. (Photo by Ali Mohammed/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
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House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Wednesday that sending several hundred military advisers to Iraq "is a step in the right direction," but he criticized Obama for not having "an overarching strategy." Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the Republican chairman of the Armed Services Committee, was harsher in his assessment: "This is incremental-ism at its best or worst, depending on how you describe it."

Wednesday's careful escalation illustrated Obama's reluctance to plunge the U.S. too deeply into the fighting and his opposition to reintroducing U.S. soldiers into a war he had vowed to bring to an end.

Still, even some Democrats were concerned with the steps announced.

"Absent significant reform, we can help the Iraqi forces win battles, but they will not stay won," said Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the House Intelligence Committee's top Democrat. He took issue with Obama expanding the U.S. role in Iraq while the war still lacks congressional authorization, and he said it was up to Abadi's government to give Sunnis a greater voice in the running of their country.

There now are nearly 3,100 U.S. troops in Iraq involved in training, advising, security and other support. In addition to bombing missions, the U.S. is conducting aerial reconnaissance and intelligence-gathering missions against Islamic State forces, while counting on Iraqi troops to do the fighting on the ground. Counterterrorism efforts in Syria, where the Islamic State has a greater foothold, are much less far along.

In Syria, an American fighting with Kurdish forces against the Islamic State group was killed in battle, authorities said Wednesday. With no connection to the U.S. military, he was probably the first American to die fighting alongside the Kurds against the extremists.

Keith Broomfield of Massachusetts died June 3 in a battle in a village near the border town of Kobani, said Nasser Haji, an official with a group of Kurdish fighters known as the YPG. Broomfield had joined the YPG on Feb. 24 under the nom de guerre Gelhat Raman, Haji said.

State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke confirmed Bloomfield's death.

The fight against the Islamic State group has attracted dozens of Westerners, including a number of Iraq war veterans who have made their way back to the Middle East to join Kurdish fighters, who have had the most success.

As for the fresh U.S. military troops, Obama's decision amounts to an acknowledgment by the administration that it has not been swift enough to respond to Iraqi military limitations and Islamic State inroads.

"We have seen shortfalls in elements of Iraqi capacity," Rhodes said. "I think the Iraqi government itself recognizes that. Part of the question that we're trying to answer here is how do we have a better ability to move quicker when we see those shortfalls."

Brett McGurk, the U.S. deputy special presidential envoy for the global coalition to counter the Islamic State, said al-Taqaddum's strategic location and the coordination of Iraqi units and tribal fighters will "greatly improve our ability to turn around airstrikes at a pretty fast clip."

The mission there will be more about advising Iraqi forces on operations against the Islamic State militants in Anbar than about providing individual troop training, said Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman.

The expanded effort also will include delivering U.S. equipment and arms directly to al-Taqaddum, under the authority of the government in Baghdad. Thus it will not represent a change in the U.S. policy of providing arms only through the central government, a source of frustration for some Sunni tribal leaders who say they've been kept away from the best equipment.

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