Oren Dorell, USA TODAY
The Obama administration said Friday it is sending more weapons to Iraq to help Baghdad put down a resurgent al-Qaeda that is battling government troops in cities that U.S. troops helped liberate during the Iraq war.
The weapons include tank ammunition and Hellfire air-to-surface missiles but some military analysts say more sophisticated arms may be needed - as well as boots on the ground - to ensure Iraqi troops are successful.
"We're delivering weapons, but all of this is like a surrogate for what we do with any other country in the world, which is send a Delta detachment or Navy SEALs unit in there," says Michael Knights, a military analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who travels frequently to Iraq.
Iraqi forces and allied Sunni tribesmen have been fighting for weeks to recapture key territories overrun by al-Qaeda in the country's Sunni-dominated Anbar province, including its two main cities, Fallujah and Ramadi.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, al-Qaeda's Iraqi branch, seized the areas after security forces pulled out to appease angry Sunnis following the arrest of a Sunni lawmaker and the dismantling of Sunni sit-in protesting the Shiite-led government.
On Friday, a battle between Iraq's government security forces and al-Qaeda fighters in Fallujah killed two civilians, hospital officials said. Army officers said sporadic clashes erupted between Iraqi soldiers and the militants in the village of al-Bubali, between Fallujah and Ramadi.
Thousands of families have fled the fighting in Fallujah alone, where al-Qaeda gunmen apparently kidnapped the city's new mayor appointed to his post only one week ago.
A Pentagon spokesman said Friday that Iraq will receive the extra arms and ammunition "very shortly," according to the Associated Press.
U.S. forces in conjunction with Sunni tribal militias had decimated al-Qaeda in Anbar before Obama ordered all U.S. combat troops out of Iraq in December 2011. Since then attacks in Anbar have grown from 300 incidents a month in 2011 to 1,200 a month last year, according to information compiled by Knights.
More than 4,500 U.S. troops died during the eight year Iraq War.
Knights said the weapons shipment is likely meant for "a specific operational requirement," such as high explosive tank ammunition that would kill insurgents in a house without going through it and damaging neighboring homes.
But he said Iraq needs sophisticated special operations training that only the United States can provide to give Baghdad proper counter-terrorism intelligence and raids that will break al-Qaeda and prevent its return.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki asked Obama for missiles and Apache helicopters when he visited Washington in November. He has also said he would like U.S. special forces to provide Iraqi forces with counter-terrorism training.
Army Col. Steve Warren declined to say whether Washington is considering using U.S. troops to train Iraqi forces. The White House would not respond.
Knights says the USA need not send infantry but should provide air weapons teams to Iraqi battalion headquarters to help direct air support to the battlefield to wipe out the terrorists. He said the United States could also help in other ways, such as by training Iraqi soldiers in Jordan.
"You're not putting U.S. troops in the war zone, you're not putting troops in combat," Knight said. "You're training to fight al-Qaeda. How can that be bad?"