"It is true that we’re operating closer and deeper into the Iraqi formations," Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend said, noting that, "we adjusted our posture during the east Mosul fight and we embedded advisers a bit further down into the formation."
Townsend commands approximately 6,000 US troops in Iraq, which for years have been stationed in Iraq as "non-combat" forces. With ISF forces becoming thinly spread in battles across Iraq, it is increasingly likely that Baghdad will request further support from US forces, in addition to close-range air support Washington has conducted throughout the Middle East.
US Defense Secretary James Mattis visited Iraq over the weekend for the first time since becoming America’s top military advisor to US President Donald Trump. Obama-era restrictions on how close troops can get to the frontlines of battle could be further loosened, Mattis suggested, noting that he is also weighing whether more infantry in the area would be useful to defeat Daesh. Mattis said, however, that, "we owe some degree of confidentiality so we don’t expose to the enemy what we have in mind as to the timing of operations."
Mattis assured Baghdad and the world that the US is not in Iraq "to seize anyone’s oil. All of us in America have generally paid for gas and oil all along, and I’m sure that we will continue to do so in the future."
A US Defense Department spokesman indicated on Tuesday that America’s aim in the Middle East remains to advise and assist forces combating Daesh terrorists. "In between phase one and phase two of ISF operations to liberate east Mosul," spokesman Jeff Davis said, the US-led coalition "expanded its advise and assist mission to better support the ISF.” Such measures included, “pushing advisors to more units, such as the federal police, as well as pushing advisers deeper into ISF formations."
US continues to provide air support, while local forces do the fighting on the ground, but that could change depending on whether Trump follows through on a campaign vow to eliminate ISIS. “It is not US troops on the front line doing the actual combat themselves,” Davis said,” but they are very close to the people that are.”
In a March 2016 primary debate, Trump said in response to a question of whether ground forces would be necessary to defeat Daesh, "we really have no choice." Trump said, "I would listen to the generals, but I’m hearing numbers of 20,000-30,000."