For the first time, Iraqi troops trained by the U.S.-led coalition have been added to the assault force Iraq is using to retake the city of Ramadi, a U.S. military official said Thursday.
The news that about 3,000 U.S.-trained Iraqi army soldiers were added to the fight in recent days was disclosed to Defense Secretary Ash Carter, who spent the day getting updates and meeting with U.S. and Iraqi officials and commanders in Baghdad. It was Carter’s first visit to Iraq since he took office in February.
The visit comes at an important moment for the Iraqi government just before the counteroffensive on Ramadi. The actual assault on the city has not yet begun, but a Pentagon spokesman, Army Col. Steve Warren, said it could start within several weeks.
The Ramadi campaign will be a crucial test not only for the Iraqi government led by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, but also for the U.S. strategy of relying on Iraqi security forces, operating in coordination with U.S.-led coalition airstrikes, to overcome the smaller Islamic State forces. President Obama has opted not to commit U.S. ground combat forces to Iraq, saying the only lasting solution is for Iraq to fight for itself.