US to expand air strikes against IS in Iraq

US to expand air strikes against IS in Iraq
U.S. President Barack Obama meets with Congressional leaders in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington to discuss his plan to combat Islamic State militants operating in Iraq and Syria September 9, 2014.

WASHINGTON- The United States will expand its campaign of air strikes against Islamic State fighters in Iraq and send another 475 troops to train local forces, President Barack Obama said Wednesday.

"Working with the Iraqi government, we will expand our efforts beyond protecting our own people and humanitarian missions, so that we're hitting ISIL targets as Iraqi forces go on offence," he said.

Obama said the reinforcements would join hundreds of US troops who are already in Iraq studying how to help Iraqi government and Kurdish regional forces in their fight against the jihadist threats.

"Now that those teams have completed their work - and Iraq has formed a government - we will send an additional 475 service members to Iraq," he said in a televised address.

"As I have said before, these American forces will not have a combat mission - we will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq," he added, seeking to reassure his target audience, the US public.

"But they are needed to support Iraqi and Kurdish forces with training, intelligence and equipment." On August 8, the United States launched a wave of air strikes on Iraq designed to halt an IS offensive that threatened the Kurdish regional capital Arbil, home to a major US diplomatic mission.

Since then, drones and carrier-based jets have carried out 154 strikes, targeting IS vehicles, heavy weapons and fighting positions threatening refugees, Arbil and two major Iraqi dams.

Wednesday's statement appeared to show that Obama is now ready to step up the campaign in a broader effort to help Iraqi forces push IS back from Iraqi cities and towards the Syrian border.

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