By Kristina Wong and Rebecca Shabad
President Obama is ordering up to 1,500 additional U.S. troops to Iraq in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), bringing the American force to more than 3,000 troops.
In a statement issued Friday afternoon, Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said the troops will serve in a “noncombat role, to expand our advise and assist mission, and initiate a comprehensive training effort for Iraqi forces.”
The troops are heading to Iraq “over the coming months.”
The move is the latest escalation in the U.S.-led fight against ISIS, which has captured large parts of Iraq and Syria.
It would bring the total number of U.S. forces deployed to 3,200. Obama previously authorized 1,600 troops to Iraq in addition to a 100 troops at the Iraqi Embassy with the State Department. 1,400 troops have already been deployed.
Despite the growing U.S. presence, the president has insisted American forces would not be involved in combat and will only play a training and advisory role.
The move is likely to spark debate on Capitol Hill and raise fears of mission creep. Lawmakers have called for a new authorization of military force against ISIS. It is unclear, though, whether they would take up the matter during the lame-duck session or wait for the new Congress.
Kirby said the recommendation for additional forces was made by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to the president based on Baghdad’s requests, the Pentagon’s own assessment of Iraqi forces and the progress they have made against ISIS.
To pay for the new request, the White House is asking Congress to approve $5.6 billion in funds.
A senior Obama administration official said Friday that they expect Congress to approve the new funding request by the time the current government spending bill expires Dec. 11.
“Our expectation is this will get resolved in the lame-duck session as Congress resolves spending bills for the rest of the 2015 fiscal year,” the official said.
The official said this funding request would be separate from any vote lawmakers might hold on the authorization for use of military force.
Of that request, $1.6 billion would be used to establish a fund to develop and support Iraqi security forces and Kurdish forces, as they confront ISIS, Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan announced Friday.
The request will pay for military operations including munitions, personnel and air operations. It would also include funding for State Department activities, such as helping regional partners fight extremists on their borders, expanding assistance to vetted Syrian rebels and providing humanitarian aid.
House Appropriations Committee spokeswoman Jennifer Hing said the panel doesn’t expect to receive the formal request until Monday.
The request is in addition to an earlier $58.6 billion request for the overseas contingency operations (OCO) fund for fiscal 2015. That’s the Pentagon’s war-funding account that has paid for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Even with a $5.6 billion addition, the full request would be much smaller than the $85 billion OCO amount the Pentagon had for fiscal 2014, which ended Sept. 30.
The new deployment will expand the U.S. presence in Iraq outside of Baghdad and Erbil. The additional troops, though, will be stationed at the brigade command level and not out in the field with Iraqi forces, the Pentagon said.
The new forces will head to several sites across the country and train 12 Iraqi brigades — nine Iraqi army units and three Peshmerga brigades.
The decision is “in concert” with coalition plans to defend critical areas and “go on the offensive against” ISIS, said the Pentagon. Coalition partners will also take part in the expanded training mission, but their numbers and deployments are being finalized.
The Pentagon has estimated the fight against ISIS has cost an average of $8.3 million a day since Aug. 8, when the U.S. began airstrikes against the group in Iraq.
On Oct. 28, the Pentagon estimated the total cost to be $580 million since Aug. 8., but the National Priorities Project — a group that tracks federal spending — estimated that the cost of the war had already crossed the $1 billion mark.
The Pentagon has not been clear about the total amount spent on military operations since mid-June, when President Obama first authorized U.S. troops to deploy to the region to help advise Iraqi forces on the Islamic group.
A September report from the nonpartisan Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments estimated the war could cost between $2.4 billion and $22 billion per year depending on a possible escalation.
— Justin Sink contributed.
— This story was updated at 4:11 p.m.