The US military has begun training Iraqi troops to take on the extremist Islamic State militants that overran a large part of the country in mid-2014, the Pentagon has announced.
American personnel have been training the Iraqi 7th Division at Asad Air Base in Anbar since December 20, while an additional four battalions have been receiving training at Taji base north of Baghdad since December 27, spokesman Col. Steve Warren told reporters on Monday.
IS and its allies have a strong presence in Anbar and Warren said that the Asad base had been targeted by "regular indirect enemy fire." However, he added that the attacks had been ineffective and US forces had not responded.
Around 2,100 US troops are currently in Iraq. 800 are providing security for US personnel and interests, and the remainder are operating in training or advisory roles. In November President Barack Obama ordered this presence to be expanded, and an additional 1,300 are expected to be deployed this month.
The Pentagon described the training program as a central part of its strategy to drive IS out of Iraq. Nine Iraqi Armed Forces brigades and three peshmerga units from Iraqi Kurdistan are scheduled to take part, while training locations will be expanded to include the Kurdish regional capital of Erbil and Besmaya, south of Baghdad.
Meanwhile at least 23 Iraqi troops and allied Sunni fighters were killed on Tuesday in an IS suicide bomb attack and subsequent fighting, according to local officials.
An IS attacker detonated a bomb amid a group of pro-government Sunni fighters close to the town of al-Baghdadi in Anbar, and militants subsequently launched assaults on army and police positions nearby, according to police and hospital sources cited by AP.
The US and its allies have also been conducting an ongoing series of airstrikes on IS targets in Iraq and Syria, which continued on Sunday and Monday, US Central Command said in a statement. In Iraq, large IS units were hit near Mosul and Ramadi and a number of vehicles were destroyed.
Fourteen strikes were carried out in Syria, including eight around the embattled Kurdish border town of Kobane, which destroyed 11 IS fighting positions. A further six attacks were made near Deir ez-Zor, hitting IS oil infrastructure and armoured vehicles.
The Kurdish fighters defending Kobane have now regained control of as much as 80 percent of the town, including the governmental square area, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Monday, adding that recent clashes have left 14 mostly non-Syrian IS fighters dead.
Meanwhile, unknown assailants are reported to have beheaded an Egyptian member of IS's "Islamic Police" in Deir ez-Zor. The man's remains showed signs of torture and a cigarette had been placed between his lips and "O Sheikh this is munkar (hateful and evil thing)" written on his body, SOHR said.
The observatory also said that there had been two assassination attempts on IS fighters in the Syrian city of al-Mayadin. In one attack, an unknown assailant attempted to run a militant over. Another was seriously injured when two men on a motorbike hit him with a metal implement.
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