US war planes to fly from Iraqi air base: Pentagon

WASHINGTON (AFP) - US combat aircraft will soon start flying out of a base in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq as part of a "more aggressive" air campaign against Islamic State jihadists, the Pentagon said on Thursday.

The use of Arbil air base reflects the broadening US offensive against the IS militants, though attack helicopters already have been flying out of bases in Iraq.

Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby confirmed "armed and manned" US aircraft would fly from Arbil, capital of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region, but declined to provide more details.

American fighter jets and other war planes bombing IS militants in Iraq previously have been flying out of bases and from aircraft carriers in the region outside Iraq.

The airfield in Arbil would allow fighter jets easier access to the battlefront, a defense official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Fighters have a shorter range than bombers or surveillance planes, and using a nearby base allows for more time over a target while reducing the need to frequently refuel, the official said.

The Pentagon did not say what type of "manned" aircraft were involved or how many aircraft will deploy to Arbil.

"There are still some decisions that have yet to be made on exact sourcing solutions," Mr Kirby told reporters.

But he indicated that US bombing raids in Iraq - which started on August 8 - would expand in support of Iraqi government and Kurdish forces battling the IS militants.

"The kind of support we're going to be giving to Iraqi forces will be more aggressive from the air," Mr Kirby said, without providing details.

His comments came a day after President Barack Obama's vow to wage a "relentless" war against IS in Iraq and Syria, under a plan that relies on US air power while arming and training local forces battling the jihadists.

Since August 8, US aircraft have carried out 156 bombing raids in Iraq, with most of the strikes targeting IS militants threatening Mosul dam.

American war planes went after IS fighters near the dam again on Wednesday and Thursday, destroying two machine gun emplacements and a bunker, according to US Central Command, which oversees American forces in the Middle East.

Mr Obama's strategy calls for more assistance for local forces in Iraq and "moderate" rebel fighters in Syria, with an additional 475 troops to serve as "advisers" to Iraqi troops or in support roles.

The additional troops, which will bring the total number of US forces in Iraq to 1,600, will start arriving in Iraq "next week," Mr Kirby said.

About 125 of the additional forces will include air crews and maintenance workers for aircraft operating out of Arbil, he said.

Unlike the US military's war in Iraq from 2003 to 2011, the American troops now in the country are devoted to providing security for American diplomats or assisting Iraqi forces, officials said.

No soldier will be involved in combat missions, Mr Kirby said.

"The level at which they will be providing advice and assistance is at the brigade or higher headquarters level," Mr Kirby said. "There's no intention to have them to engage in combat, on foot patrols - that kind of thing."

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