By Missy Ryan and Erin Cunningham

The Washington Post

In Iraq’s western Anbar province, more than 300 U.S. troops are posted at a base in the thick of a pitched battle between Iraqi forces, backed by tribal fighters, and well-armed Islamic State militants.

The militants, positioned at a nearby town, have repeatedly hit the base with artillery and rocket fire in recent weeks. Since the middle of December, the U.S.-led military coalition has launched 13 airstrikes around the facility.

U.S. troops have suffered no casualties in the attacks. But the violence has underlined the risks to American personnel as they fan out across Iraq as part of the expanding U.S. mission against the Islamic State, even as President Obama has pledged that U.S. operations “will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil.”

In a sign of the risks, military officials said American soldiers have been transported to the Ayn al-Asad base under the cover of night by helicopter — partly to maintain a low profile for the renewed U.S. operation in Iraq but also to protect U.S. personnel amid fierce fighting west of the capital, Baghdad.

Under Obama’s plan to aid the Iraqi government, the number of U.S. troops in Iraq is expected to grow to about 3,000 from just under 2,000 now. Not only have they been deployed in Baghdad and the northern city of Irbil, but in recent weeks they also have been sent to Anbar and to training sites flanking the capital.

 

Read More: http://www.stripes.com/news/middle-east/us-advisers-in-iraq-stay-out-of-combat-but-see-fighting-edging-closer-1.322077