The New York Times reports: The United States has begun training a first wave of Iraqi Army recruits, in recent days putting them through morning fitness exercises and instructing them in marksmanship and infantry tactics, in an effort to gather enough forces to mount a spring offensive against the extremists of the Islamic State.
Military officials here say the first of the American-trained recruits, who answered the call to arms by Iraqi religious leaders over the summer and have completed some basic training under the Iraqis, will be ready to join the fight against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, by mid-February. Pushing forward, officials say the goal is to train 5,000 new recruits every six weeks.
“These are new patriots of Iraq, that have actually signed up, have been through basic training and are now ready to go through some advanced training,” said Maj. Gen. Paul E. Funk II, the American commander who is overseeing the training program.
More than six months after the Islamic State’s lightning advance through northern Iraq forced a reluctant President Obama to order a new United States military mission here, an American training program for the Iraqi security forces has begun to take shape. In recent days, the first recruits, about 1,600 men in four battalions, have been received by American instructors at Camp Taji, a base north of Baghdad. Others have begun arriving at Al Asad Air Base in Anbar Province, joining roughly 200 American Marines and Special Forces soldiers.
The American presence in Iraq is expected to grow in the coming weeks, to more than 3,000 personnel from about 1,800. The American military already has a presence in Baghdad and Erbil, the Kurdish capital in the north, and has plans for two more training sites: one for Special Forces in Baghdad and another in Besmaya, south of the capital. [Continue reading…]