A company of about 200 U.S. Marines has set up a firebase in northern Iraq to defend local forces preparing to retake Mosul from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the U.S. military said Monday. 

The Marines deployed to the area, near Makhmour, several days ago but have already come under attack by ISIS at least twice, according to Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren. 

{mosads}One of the attacks was fatal, when two rockets targeted the firebase on Saturday. That attack killed Marine Staff Sgt. Louis F. Cardin and wounded several other Marines, some of whom were evacuated to a hospital in Landstuhl, Germany.

The other was a small-arms attack on the Marines’ outpost on Monday, by a squad-sized group of ISIS fighters, Warren said. 

Warren said the Marines are there to provide “force protection” for local forces at a nearby Iraqi base, as well as the fewer than 100 U.S. advisers with the Iraqis. 

Those Iraqi forces are preparing for a battle to retake Mosul, which ISIS has held since June 2014. 

Warren declined to say whether the Marines were planning to accompany the Iraqi forces into battle, insisting he did not want to telegraph future operations against ISIS. 

The Marines, who deployed from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, brought “infantry capabilities, field artillery capabilities and some other early warning systems,” Warren said.  

The deployment ramps up the U.S. combat role in the fight against ISIS.

“We’ve spoken all along, or at least for months, about accelerants,” said Warren.

“So placing advisers into Makhmur along with the 15th Division, that’s the accelerant. Bringing these force protection Marines into position to protect those are just that, it’s it’s force protection and if, if these — if these troops end up conducting other operations, then we can, we can address it then,” he continued.

Warren sidestepped questions on whether the Marines are on a combat mission but said they are authorized to defend the Iraqi forces with a field artillery system.

“It’s able to fire back very quickly when the enemy shoots. We’re able to shoot back very rapidly and it’s a threatening system that’s going to — going to cause any [ISIS] fighters in the area to think twice before approaching our forces. And so that’s the mission,” he said.

Warren said the U.S. presence “will certainly stay as long as it’s required.” He added that the particular Marine contingent now at the firebase there temporarily.

Warren also said he expects there will be more attacks against the Marines. 

“We’re in a dangerous place, and there’s a war going on. So, we have to expect that there will be attacks,” he said. 

“They have significant combat power and the capability of fighting hard where they are. So — but it’s still a war, and there are still going to be tragedies and things are still going to happen that we’re unhappy with. But they are the most highly trained forces on this planet. They’re United States Marines.”

—This story was updated at 10:00 p.m.


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