April 18, 2016 / 6:57 AM / 2 years ago

U.S. defense chief offers Iraq more help, possibly troops: officials

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter flew into Iraq on Monday to discuss offering more help in the fight against Islamic State, possibly including sending in more U.S. troops, officials said.

Visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter gestures during a joint press conference with his Filipino counterpart Voltaire Gazmin (not pictured) at the presidential palace in Manila April 14, 2016. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

Carter would meet Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and Defense Minister Khaled al-Obaidi and discuss ways to build on recent gains against the militant group, which also controls large parts of neighboring Syria, the U.S. officials added.

They declined to say what kind of assistance would be offered, but said it would likely include more U.S. troops on the ground.

“Whenever we’re talking about additional capabilities, it usually means some small numbers of additional troops,” the U.S. official said before the unannounced visit.

Iraq’s army, trained by the U.S. military officers and backed by air strikes from a U.S.-led coalition, last week retook the Hit region, pushing it further north along the Euphrates valley.

The Iraqi government has designated Mosul, the largest Iraqi city still under Islamic State control, as its next major target. It retook the western city of Ramadi in December.

“The fight of Iraq is the fight for Mosul. Mosul is the end game in Iraq,” a senior U.S. defense official said, on condition of anonymity. “It’s a very large urban scenario ... We are going to need to be more aggressive, the Iraqis are asking us to be more aggressive.”

Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati; Editing by Sami Aboudi and Andrew Heavens

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