US Marines establish base in northern Iraq
About 200 US Marines have established an artillery position in northern Iraq, near the city of Mosul the US military said Monday.
The first-of-its-kind deployment was only revealed after a Marine on the base was killed and several others injured in a rocket attack by the Islamic State group (IS) on Saturday.
The death also pointed to a deepening US ground troop involvement in the fight against the IS in Iraq.
While US warplanes launch daily strikes against IS positions in Iraq, the estimated 3,900 US troops in the country are officially in a supporting role training and advising Iraqi troops.
With the exception of raids by US special operations forces, the US troops have until now not been directly involved in combat.
The death of Marine Staff Sgt. Louis F. Cardin on Saturday prompted the Pentagon to disclose that he was engaged in providing fire support from a "recently established coalition fire base near Makhmour in northern Iraq."
On Monday, a US military spokesman acknowledged that the Marines established "Fire Base Bell" two weeks ago, deploying the equivalent of a company with "four guns."
Colonel Steve Warren, the Baghdad-based military spokesman, said the Marines were there to provide "force protection" for several thousand Iraqi troops at Makhmour.
US military advisers are accompanying the Iraqis as they prepare for an offensive on the IS-held city of Mosul.
"This is the first time we have established a spot that is only American," he said, adding that it was several hundred meters (yards) from an Iraqi base.
President Barack Obama had promised at the start of the US-led offensive against the IS group that he would not send US ground troops to fight the jihadists.
But the slow progress in retaking lands captured by IS fighters has pushed Washington to go further, allowing special operations forces to carry out targeted raids and military advisers to get nearer to the fighting.
The Marines and the military advisers with Iraq's 15th Division are less than twenty kilometers (12 miles) from the front line, according to Warren.
Warren added that the Marine base should not be considered a combat outpost because it is located behind the front lines and is not initiating combat with IS.
However, Warren said a small number of IS fighters got close enough to the Marines' outpost to target them with small arms on Monday, in an attack that left IS fighters dead.
Agencies contributed to this report