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Obama approves 450 troops for Iraq training mission

US President Barack Obama has approved the deployment of up to 450 more troops to Iraq, to help counter recent gains by "Islamic State." The Pentagon has stressed that none of the soldiers will be deployed in combat.

The US Defense Department said on Wednesday that the troops would bolster an existing 3,100-strong US mission to train and assist the Iraqi army and Sunni tribal fighters.

Baghdad has said it hopes to

retake the Ramadi-Falluja corridor

in Anbar province from the self-styled "Islamic State" (IS).

The decision to deploy extra training troops came in response to a request from Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, the White House said.

"These new advisers will work to build capacity of Iraqi forces, including local tribal fighters, to improve their ability to plan, lead, and conduct operations against ISIL in eastern Anbar under the command of the prime minister," said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.

Recent victories by IS fighters, including the

taking of Ramadi

in Iraq and

Palmyra in Syria

, have led to increased criticism of Obama's reliance on air power to "defeat and degrade" the terror militia. However, the Obama administration has stressed

the deployment

is not a departure from strategy, with none of the new troops being deployed in active combat.

Preference for defense

The US is seeking to integrate Sunni fighters with the Iraqi Security Forces and help them devise a strategy for retaking Ramadi, which is Anbar's provincial capital. The deployment is to be based at Taqaddum military base in eastern Anbar.

Until now, Iraqi officials have preferred to deploy most of their US-trained troops in defensive positions around Baghdad rather than to attack IS. Shiite fighters, not representative of the local population, have been leading many of the ground offensives against IS positions.

Obama on Wednesday also ordered the the expedited delivery of essential equipment and material" to Iraqi forces, including Kurdish Peshmerga troops and Sunni tribal fighters.

Baghdad oversees the training of Sunni volunteers, but Washington hopes to have American troops more directly involved in future.

Iraq's Shiite-led government faces a battle to win the hearts and minds of the Sunni community, many of whom are distrustful of its motives.

rc/msh (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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