U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, expressed hope that a even a modestly beefed-up U.S. presence could help Iraq forces plan and carry out a counterattack to retake Ramadi.
But many critics have said previously that the current 3,100-strong American contingent of trainers and advisers is far from enough to turn the tide of battle.
Obama is expected to stick to his stance against sending American troops into combat or even close to the front lines, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity. But increased U.S. numbers in Iraq’s volatile Sunni heartland raises could mean running greater risks.
Since the fall of Ramadi, which drew harsh U.S. criticism of the Iraqi military performance, Washington has begun to speed up supplies of weapons to the government forces and examine ways to improve the training program.
With Obama closing in on a decision, one U.S. official speaking on condition of anonymity said the increased U.S. deployment would likely entail several hundred more troops. A second official said the figure would be less than 500.
While it was unclear exactly how many would be deployed directly to Anbar, one U.S. official said many of those sent to the province would be stationed at a new training base there. U.S. Forces have already conducted training at the al-Asad military base in western Anbar.
“We are considering a range of options to accelerate the training and equipping of Iraqi security forces in order to support them in taking the fight to ISIS. Those options include sending additional trainers to Iraq,” said Alistair Baskey, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council. But he declined to provide details.
General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made clear during a visit to Jerusalem that there were no plans to fundamentally alter Obama's military strategy that has so far kept U.S. ground troops off the front lines.
“We’ve made some recommendations on potential enhancements to the training and equip mission,” Dempsey said, citing options including new training sites.
However, he did not say how many extra U.S. troops may be involved. Another senior U.S. military official said only that the number would be modest.
At the Pentagon, spokesman Colonel Steve Warren said the United States had noted that forces in Iraq who had undergone U.S.-backed training emerged as “an improved fighting force.”
“Because of those observations, we've determined that it is better to train more Iraqi Security Forces and we're now working through a strategy for how to do that,” Warren said.
The initial plan was to train about 9,000 Iraqi troops in a year. As of last Thursday, 8,920 Iraqi troops had received training at four different sites and another 2,601 were currently in some stage of training, he said.