The Pentagon has acknowledged US troops will be heavily involved in the large-scale military offensive to wrest the Iraqi city of Mosul from Daesh terrorists.
"Americans are in harm's way as part of this fight," Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said Monday. "It's fair to say there are Americans on the outskirts of the city."
"There are specific steps that have been taken, and protocols in place, for us to try and reduce the risk to Americans because this is Iraqis in the lead," he said.
Iraqi military forces and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters launched the long-anticipated battle for Mosul – Iraq’s second largest city – which fell to Daesh more than two years ago.
The American general in charge of the coalition’s war in Iraq and Syria, Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, said the US is making “advisory” contributions to the Mosul offensive, including deployment of “forward air controllers” to the frontlines.
Those controllers, known as Joint Terminal Air Controllers, gather intelligence and call in the locations of Daesh targets for airstrikes.
Approximately 100 to 200 US Special Operations forces are advising local units, and have the authority to go further into the field in Mosul, according to CNN.
However, command and control centers for US forces are in the frontlines, meaning the American troops are “providing advice in a combat environment,” Cook said.
The danger to US military personnel will likely grow as the campaign intensifies.
"They may be as far forward as 500 meters outside the range of small arms, but that does expose them to mortar fire. It does expose them to artillery fire," retired US Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said.
In addition, US artillery units are striking targets from sites both north and south of the city.
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said the start of the Mosul operation was a "decisive moment" in the campaign to defeat Daesh.
"We are confident our Iraqi partners will prevail against our common enemy and free Mosul and the rest of Iraq from ISIL’s hatred and brutality."