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10 Jun, 2015 14:12

US to build new Iraqi base to train anti-ISIS Sunni fighters

The US has announced plans to build a new military training camp in Iraq's Anbar province, to combat Islamic State and retake the city of Ramadi. Up to 450 troops will be deployed to the base, which will train mostly Sunni volunteers to join the fight.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a US official told AP the site will be at al-Taqqadum, a desert base near the town of Habbaniya, which was a military hub during the Iraq war. The White House confirmed the base will house up to 450 troops.

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The additional troops will arrive as early as this summer, an official told the New York Times, calling the move “an adjustment to try to get the right training to the right folks.”

The news is consistent with Washington's strategy of building up Iraqi forces while conducting aerial bombings of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) targets. US officials have previously stated that getting Sunnis more involved in the war is crucial to ousting IS from Anbar province.

Officials told Reuters they were hopeful that a boosted presence of US troops could help Iraq's military plan and execute a counter-attack to retake Ramadi, which was seizedby IS militants last month.

READ MORE: ‘We pledge full US support’: Biden backpedals after US slights Iraqi army

The fall of the city prompted criticism of Washington's approach. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said that Islamic State’s capture of Ramadi suggested the Iraqis lack a “will to fight.”

The US is already training Iraqi troops at four sites – two near Baghdad, one at al-Asad air base in Anbar province, and one near Irbil in northern Iraq. About 3,100 trainers and advisers are currently working in the country.

As of last Thursday, 8,920 Iraqi troops had received training at the sites, and another 2,601 were currently in some stage of training, according to General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The White House has confirmed that the additional US troops will not be serving in a combat role. However, one official said the plan may include expediting the delivery of arms and military equipment to some sectors of Iraq's military.

That official's information seems to align with a statement from Alistair Baskey, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council.

READ MORE: UN: 1,375 Iraqis killed in January, majority civilians

"We are considering a range of options to accelerate the training and equipping of Iraqi security forces in order to support them in taking the fight to ISIL. Those options include sending additional trainers to Iraq," Baskey said.

However, in a statement on Monday, Obama admitted the US doesn't have a complete strategy for training Iraqi security forces to regain land from IS.

The US isn’t the only country expanding its efforts in Iraq. British Prime Minister David Cameron said his country will send up to 125 additional troops to train Iraqi forces. Italy is also expected to play a key role in training Iraqi police.

IS has seized one-third of Iraq over the past year. It now controls two provincial capitals, as well as the city of Falluja. Forces have retaken Tikrit, northwest of Baghdad, but many of its residents have been unable to return due to buildings being rigged with explosives.