THE PENTAGON - The U.S. military has established the first all-American fire base in Iraq since the start of the war against Islamic State, a U.S. military spokesman said Monday.
Fewer than 200 Marines have deployed to the fire base, located near the northern Iraqi town of Makhmur, to protect U.S. advisers and Iraqis who are stationed at a nearby Iraqi military base. The base is part of the U.S.-led coalition's efforts to prepare Iraqi combat forces for the fight to retake Mosul.
"This is the first time that we've established a spot that's only American," Col. Steve Warren, a coalition spokesman, told reporters from Baghdad. "All of this movement has been done at the invitation of the Iraqi government."
Warren said the Marines' mission is defensive and is considered part of the U.S. advise and assist mission. He insisted these Marines are carrying out the same orders as those protecting U.S. advisers at al-Taqaddum airbase during preparations to retake Ramadi from Islamic State fighters last year.
In that instance, as well as at the Ayn al-Asad airbase in Anbar province, U.S. force protection troops were deployed within the base. The decision to deploy Marines to a new U.S.-only base near Makhmur was "a tactical decision" made "because of space" restrictions, Warren said.
Small arms fire
Despite the base being located behind the front lines, a small number of Islamic State fighters came close enough to the Marines' base to fire small arms at them on Monday, Warren said. Two Islamic State fighters were killed and none of the Marines was wounded in that attack.
The firefight came just two days after U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. Louis Cardin was killed at the new base.
Islamic State militants fired two rockets during that assault on Saturday.
"One landed harmlessly, and the other one unfortunately did not," Warren said. Most of the wounded troops have returned to active duty, but according to Warren, "some Marines were evacuated outside of Iraq for higher level care."