US marines arrive in Iraq to step up the fight against ISIS

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The Marine killed in an ISIS rocket attack in Iraq on Saturday was at the first American firebase that had only become operational a few days earlier CNN has learned.

The existence of the firebase had not been made public. The Pentagon had planned to acknowledge the firebase this week, a defense official tells CNN.

The rugged location for now has a “couple of hundred” Marines living in tents near Makhmour in northern Iraq. It’s assumed ISIS observed the Marines moving into the area and saw them firing practice rounds with their howitzers, the official said.

ISIS on Saturday fired two rockets from about 15 km away. One fell inside the base killing one Marine and wounding several others. The Marines returned fire with their artillery.

On Sunday, the Pentagon identified the slain Marine as Staff Sgt. Louis F. Cardin, of Temecula, California. Cardin was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, the Pentagon said.

The Pentagon has yet to formally acknowledge it has established its first U.S. fire base in Iraq in the current fight against ISIS for what the official said will eventually be a limited ground combat operation in support of the Iraqis.

The Marines will be using their field artillery guns in the coming weeks to help defend Iraqi troops as they move towards Mosul. For now, the artillery is to defend another nearby base where American troops are getting 5,000 Iraqi forces ready for the operation to retake Mosul.

The Marines first began moving into the area just two weeks ago from their own base of operations aboard an amphibious assault ship the USS Kearsarge, the defense official told CNN.

The Marines had finished setting up and testing their artillery just two or three days before the attack. There was a brief mention of a coalition fire base in a statement Saturday announcing the death of the Marine, but the official said the only troops there are American Marines and no other coalition forces.

On Sunday, the coalition announced that in consultation with the government of Iraq, the U.S. “has assigned a detachment of U.S. Marines from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit to the support of Iraqi Security Force and Coalition ground operations. The detachment from the 26th MEU will add to the Marines and Sailors currently in Iraq” supporting the effort against ISIS.

The Marines have already named the location “Fire Base Bell.” The U.S has similar artillery at two other large Iraqi bases, but Bell is the only known fire base. That terminology signifies this is a small remote location designed to use its artillery to support infantry troops at forward locations.

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