U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said hundreds more U.S. troops will be heading to Iraq ahead of an major assault to retake the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants.
Carter told reporters September 28 that the troops would help Iraqi security forces and Kurdish militias in the run-up to the offensive in Mosul, which could start as soon as next month.
A U.S. defense official later put the number at 615.
Carter tried to emphasize that the U.S. forces would not be engaging in combat outright.
That's something President Barack Obama's administration has taken pains to avoid, having pledged to withdraw nearly all U.S. forces from Iraq, but still finding Iraqi forces struggling to retake territory against Islamic State fighters.
"We're in a support role, but I need to make clear once again: American forces combatting [Islamic State] in Iraq are in harm's way,"Carter told reporters during a trip to New Mexico. "No one should be in any doubt about that."
The effort to recapture Mosul, Iraq's third largest city, is shaping into one of the biggest tests not only for the Iraqi government but also the U.S. effort to reverse Islamic State's gains there.
There are roughly 4,600 troops in Iraq, according to the Pentagon, although the figure doesn't include troops there on temporary duty.
With reporting by AFP and Reuters