The Pentagon said Tuesday that a small number of Shiite militia members are at the same Iraqi air base where U.S. personnel deployed earlier this month.
Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, said there are no Shiite militia units at al Taqaddum, but that there are a “low double-digits” number of Shiite individuals working as liaisons with the Iraqi government.
“There’s risk, this is U.S. forces in Anbar province so there’s inherent risk there, but these handful of Shia militamen who are serving as liaisons, we don’t believe increase the risk level,” Col. Warren told reporters at the Pentagon.
The administration announced earlier this month about 450 additional U.S. troops were deploying to al Taqaddum to advise Iraqis in the mission to retake parts of Anbar province from Islamic State control, including Ramadi. The Pentagon also said that al Taqaddum could be the first of several “lily pads” as the administration considers sending more U.S. advisers to air bases used in the Iraq war.
There were larger Shiite militia units on al Taqaddum prior to the U.S. arrival, but Col. Warren said one of the conditions for U.S. assistance was that the units leave the base. These units are currently located right outside the base and are prohibited from entering al Taqaddum, he said.
“As we conduct our broader force protection analysis, we felt it was in the interest and safety of our personnel to have these militia units move off the Taqaddum base,” he said.
Col. Warren said the U.S. and Shiite forces at al Taqaddum are separated by space on the base that’s as large as Vienna, Virginia, and also said the American troops have had “no interaction” with Shiite liaisons.
The Shiite militia members on the base are part of the Popular Mobilization Forces, he said.
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