US official says Marines expanding combat role in Iraq

Mideast Islamic State Ramadi
In this Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016 photo, Iraqi soldiers stand near destroyed armoured vehicles amid the devastation in Ramadi, 70 miles (115 kilometers) west of Baghdad, Iraq. Ramadi, once home to 500,000 people, lies largely in ruins after months of air bombardment and the scorched-earth practices of IS fighters in retreat. The U.S-led coalition acknowledges the importance of rebuilding, but actual money for the effort falls far short. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)

WASHINGTON (AP) — A senior American official says U.S. Marines operating out of a small outpost in Iraq provided artillery and targeting support for Iraqi troops Thursday, expanding the American combat role as the operation to retake Mosul inched ahead.

U.S. officials have insisted that the nearly 200 Marines at Fire Base Bell are only there to provide security for Iraqi forces and U.S. advisers at the nearby Iraqi base in Mokhmour.

But the official says the Marines fired illumination and artillery rounds to help locate and strike Islamic State fighters as the Iraqi troops took control of several nearby villages.

U.S. fighter jets also launched multiple airstrikes on at least two locations, hitting enemy rocket and mortar positions.

The official isn’t authorized to discuss the operation publicly and requested anonymity.

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