Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi has asked U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel for more air strikes by Western warplanes against Islamic State (IS) militants and for more weapons to battle them.
Speaking at the start of talks in Baghdad with Hagel on December 9, Abadi said Iraqi forces "are very much advancing on the ground. But they need more air power and more...heavy weaponry."
Upon his arrival in Baghdad, Hagel said that the United States has "a role to play here, but always our role has to be a support role."
Hagel, on his last official trip abroad as Pentagon chief, told U.S. and Australian soldiers at Baghdad International Airport that the United States was training, assisting, and advising Iraqi forces in their battle against IS militants.
But he said the key to progress was an inclusive government in Baghdad that could rally all Iraqis.
Hagel’s visit is the first to Iraq by a Pentagon chief since December 2011, when the United States marked the end of its previous military mission there.
Hagel said he was getting “first-hand assessments” of the battle that is being waged against IS militants by Iraqi forces and the U.S.-led international coalition.
In Kuwait on December 8, Hagel said support from the U.S.-led coalition has “allowed the Iraqi security forces to take back some ground" from IS militants who seized large swathes of territory in northern and western Iraq and Syria during the summer.
He said the battle requires "a long-term effort. It's difficult. There will be setbacks. There will be victories."
Hagel resigned on November 24, under pressure from U.S. President Barack Obama, but is remaining as U.S. defense secretary until his successor is confirmed.
Obama has nominated a former deputy defense secretary, Ashton Carter, to replace Hagel.
Ahead of Hagel’s arrival in Baghdad, the top U.S. commander coordinating efforts against the IS militants announced that an additional 1,500 troops have been pledged for the Iraq mission by countries in the coalition.
Lieutenant General James Terry said the commitments were made during a conference among coalition members last week.
Terry said a "large percentage" of the personnel to be deployed would be training Iraqi troops.
He did not say which countries would provide the extra troops.
There are already about 1,500 U.S. troops in Iraq who are training and advising Iraqi government forces as well as Peshmerga fighters from Iraq’s Kurdish region.
Obama also has approved the deployment of an additional 1,500 soldiers.
With reporting by AP, Reuters, and AFP