(CNSNews.com) - On the same day the Obama administration announced it is sending another 600 troops to Iraq, a White House spokesman said even with this latest in a series of recent troop increases, the president has "made good on his promise to responsibly reduce significantly the U.S. military footprint in Iraq."
"I looked this up just yesterday," spokesman Josh Earnest said. "When President Obama took office in 2009, there were 144,000 U.S. military servicemembers in Iraq. The number we're talking about now is around 5,000 or 6,000 U.S. military personnel in Iraq.
"They also -- and it's not just that the number is so much smaller; the mission is markedly different."
Earnest noted that when President Obama took office, "U.S. servicemembers in Iraq were responsible for taking the fight to the enemy. Current servicemembers are now in a position where they are offering training and advice and assistance to Iraqi Security Forces that are leading the fight against ISIL."
Some Special Operations Forces have engaged the enemy directly. "But it's the Iraqi Security Forces that are on the front lines by and large. They are the ones who are responsible for taking the fight to ISIL."
Earnest said he didn't mean to "downplay the significant risk" faced by U.S. troops in Iraq.
"Our men and women in uniform, while they have a different mission than the one that was given to them by President George W. Bush, still are putting themselves in harm's way. They're going to a dangerous part of the world. They're undertaking dangerous missions to protect the American people. And we owe them a deep debt of gratitude."
The 600 additional troops will support Iraqi Security Forces as they launch their fight to remove ISIS from the city of Mosul.
According to Earnest, the troops will "organize the logistics" and also "offer advice and assistance to Iraqi forces on the ground."
Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Obama approved the troop increase at the recommendation of himself and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford.
"As we said all along, whenever we see opportunities to accelerate the campaign, we want to seize them. We have consistently done so. The president has approved them whenever General Dunford and I have presented them to him, and Prime Minister Abadi, too, has approved, as he must, because he is the commander of this campaign, these increases in our capabilities there.
"We'll stay in close contact with the Iraqi government as the campaign to defeat Daesh and expel it from Mosul intensifies in the coming weeks," Carter said.
As CNSNews.com previously reported,in mid-2014, two-and-a-half years after President Obama oversaw the withdrawal of the last U.S. forces from Iraq, the jihadists of ISIS overran Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, prompting Obama to send up to 300 military advisers to help the Iraqis face the new threat.
Since then the number of U.S. troops on the ground has picked up steadily, with the administration stating repeatedly along the way that the mission was to “train, advise and assist.”
--By July 2014, the number had doubled;
--In August, a further 130 troops were deployed, taking the total to more than 700;
--In September, the president authorized another 475 troops, pushing the new total to above 1,200;
--By November, an additional authorization of 1,500 troops took the new total to more than 3,000;
--In June 2015, another 450 troops were sent, raising the total to “up to 3,550 authorized across Iraq.”
--By March 2016, the Pentagon was speaking about a cap of 3,870 U.S. troops;
--In April 2016, that cap was raised to 4,087, with the deployment of another 217 personnel;
--In July, Carter announced the deployment of an additional 560 troops, for an authorized level of 4,600.
--And yesterday, on Sept. 28, Carter announced the deployment of another 600 troops.
According to the Associated Press, there were 4,565 U.S. forces in Iraq as of Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016, according to the Pentagon. That number does not include as many as 1,500 troops who are there on temporary duty or are not counted for other bookkeeping reasons.