The Washington Post reports: At the base of a rocky ridge rising from the surrounding farmland, the barrels of American artillery poke out from under camouflage covers, their sights trained on Islamic State-held positions.
Less than 10 miles from the front lines in the push toward the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, the U.S. outpost, known as Firebase Bell, is manned by about 200 Marines.
“Having them here has raised the morale of our fighters,” said Lt. Col. Helan Mahmood, the head of a commando regiment in the Iraqi army, as his truck bumped along the dirt track that divides his base from the American encampment, ringed by razor wire and berms.
“If there’s any movement from the enemy, they bomb immediately,” he said.
The new firebase is part of a creeping U.S. buildup in Iraq since troops first returned to the country with a contingent of 275 advisers, described at the time by the Pentagon as a temporary measure to help get “eyes on the ground.”
Now, nearly two years later, the official troop count has mushroomed to 4,087, not including those on temporary rotations, a number that has not been disclosed. [Continue reading…]