Editor's note: This story was updated Friday to include comments from U.S. military officials in Baghdad and the head of U.S. Central Command. It was first published Thursday, March 9, at 7:16 p.m., EST.
WASHINGTON — The U.S. military is sending up to an additional 2,500 ground combat troops to a staging base in Kuwait from which they could be called upon to back up coalition forces battling the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
The deployment will include elements of the 82nd Airborne Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team, which is based at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. About 1,700 soldiers from the same unit are overseas now, spread between Iraq and Kuwait. They're focused on the U.S.-led effort to train and assist the Iraqi troops doing much of the fighting against ISIS there.
These new personnel, however, will be "postured there to do all things Mosul, Raqqa, all in between," Army Lt. Gen. Joseph Anderson, the Army's deputy chief of staff for operations, told House lawmakers Wednesday. He was referring to the Islamic State's two main strongholds: Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria, major urban centers where U.S.-back allies are fighting a well entrenched enemy.
"So the whole brigade will now be forward," Anderson said.
It's unclear when this new wave of paratroopers will deploy. Lt. Col. Joe Buccino, an 82nd Airborne Division spokesman, referred questions to the U.S. military command in Baghdad. Officials there did not directly address Military Times' questions seeking additional details. Rather, they issued the following statement on Friday acknowledging Anderson's remarks on Capitol Hill.
"There are a number of options under consideration as the coalition looks for ways to accelerate the defeat of ISIS," it says. "We continue to believe that the most effective way to achieve a lasting victory is to do it by, with and through our partner forces who have the greatest stake in the outcome. For operational security reasons, we will not discuss future deployments or contingency operational planning."
All told, the 82nd Airborne's 2nd Brigade Combat Team includes about 4,400 soldiers who compose infantry, artillery and cavalry units, plus their supply pipeline.
Today, there are about 6,000 American troops spread between Iraq and Syria, where this week Marine Corps artillery crews established a fire base from which U.S. forces intend to attack ISIS targets in and around Raqqa. Additionally, a team of Army Rangers was dispatched to the city of Mabijto prevent Turkish troops and Syrian Kurdish militias — both key U.S. allies in the counter-ISIS mission — from fighting one another. Meanwhile, Russian military elements, in support of troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar al Assad, also are present on the city's outskirts.
The head of U.S. Central Command, Army Gen. Joseph Votel, told Senate lawmakers on Thursday that conventional U.S. forces would be required stabilize the region once ISIS fighters are flushed from Raqqa, the group's self-proclaimed capital. Officials anticipate that America's allies will need assistance preventing their return and establishing Syrian-led peacekeeping efforts.
The Army's announcement comes less than a month after reports surfacedindicating that, as part of the Pentagon's proposal, conventional military forces could be sent into Syria specifically, where a patchwork of American allies have closed in on Raqqa. Overall, the situation facing U.S. troops there is significantly more complex than in Iraq.
Asked on Thursday whether the soldiers soon bound for Kuwait have prepared to operate in such a challenging environment, a military official said they are trained to address "any contingency" in either theater.
The Pentagon earlier this month submitted plans to the White House for speeding efforts to defeat ISIS, one of President Trump's first orders upon assuming office. Those plans are said to include operations in a number of countries, not only Iraq and Syria.