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Details Emerge About U.S. Plans To Fight ISIS In Iraq


The coalition confronting ISIS is growing. The United States has gotten commitments from some Arab countries and Western allies to fight the militant group. Iran is one nation taking part, but that's complicated as both the U.S. and Iran are refusing to coordinate with their military in Iraq. Joining us in the studio is NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman with the latest on what we know about U.S. military plans. Tom, good morning.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: Let's get to the news here. The U.S. hit some targets near Baghdad last night. This comes after President Obama announces what he said would be an expanded campaign. Is this something new?

BOWMAN: It is something new, and for the first time, U.S. airstrikes have been in direct support of Iraqi forces. Iraqi forces were fighting ISIS troops in this area southwest of Baghdad. They called in airstrikes to help them fight them, and the airstrikes took out that ISIS position. So that's new.

GREENE: And before the U.S. was just - these airstrikes were supporting U.S. military personnel. I mean, this is actually supporting the Iraqi military.

BOWMAN: First time supporting Iraqi military, and before that, it was basically airstrikes or about 160-or-so to protect U.S. personnel in the city of Erbil to prevent humanitarian crises or to protect infrastructural-like dams. So this is clearly the beginning of that expanded airstrike campaign.

GREENE: Beginning of the expanded airstrike campaign. How does it expand from here?

BOWMAN: Well, another thing going on is that 475 military trainers will be heading to Iraq. They'll join a few hundred trainers already there who are in operation centers - one in Erbil another in Baghdad. And also the U.S. will be setting up a military headquarters in Iraq headed up by a two-star general with dozens of staff members. And they'll oversee this expanded effort in Iraq, the airstrikes and also the help from other countries in the region who participate in this effort to go after ISIS.

GREENE: Do we know yet what those other countries will be doing, what role they'll be playing?

BOWMAN: You know, we don't know at this point. Secretary of State John Kerry said there are ample countries - that's his word - who will take part in the bombing campaign. He didn't say which ones, but reportedly they include the United Arab Emirates - the UAE - and Saudi Arabia. And so these countries might be doing actual airstrikes themselves or providing, let's say, refueling planes or surveillance planes, that kind of thing. But we do know that Saudi Arabia will be sponsoring training of Syrian moderate rebels on their soil. We don't have a sense of how many U.S. military trainers will be in Saudi Arabia or taking part in this, but we do know that they'll be training about 5,000 to 6,000 Syrian, moderate rebels over the next year.

GREENE: And we're also talking about training in Iraq, right? We heard the president call for a beefed-up Sunni National Guard. What exactly is he talking about?

BOWMAN: Well, he hopes to create Sunni National Guard units because the Iraqi Army, which is mostly Shia, the Sunnis just don't trust them. So they're going to create these separate units to fight in mostly - you know, in the Anbar province southwest of Baghdad. The question is, how long will that take? Will they be willing to fight in these units? And also these 475 American trainers, is that enough to spread around Iraq and to train up these new Sunni units and also train the existing Iraqi forces? The problem is roughly half of the Iraqi forces, according to U.S. assessments, either don't have adequate leadership or simply disintegrated in the face of that ISIS push.

GREENE: All right. NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman joining us in the studio. Tom, thanks a lot.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.
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