US President Barack Obama has announced 275 US troops will be deployed to Iraq to provide security for the US Embassy in Baghdad as Sunni insurgents continue to test the nation’s security forces in its push closer to the capital.
“This force is deploying for the purpose of protecting U.S. citizens and property, if necessary, and is equipped for combat,” Obama said in a letter sent to House and Senate leaders.“This force will remain in Iraq until the security situation becomes such that it is no longer needed.”
“The personnel will provide assistance to the Department of State in connection with the temporary relocation of some staff from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad to the U.S. Consulates General in Basra and Erbil and to the Iraq Support Unit in Amman,” the press secretary said in a statement. “These U.S. military personnel are entering Iraq with the consent of the Government of Iraq. The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad remains open, and a substantial majority of the U.S. Embassy presence in Iraq will remain in place and the embassy will be fully equipped to carry out its national security mission.”
The White House had reportedly dropped any idea of sending US combat troops to Iraq.
“The president was very clear that we will not be sending U.S. troops back into combat in Iraq,” White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in a statement. “That remains the case and he has asked his national security team to prepare a range of other options that could help support Iraqi security forces.”
The White House did not comment on whether the announcement of embassy security represents a possible break from the Obama administration’s policy against future combat troops in Iraq.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration is said to be considering offering a small contingent of American special forces soldiers to Iraq, US officials said Monday.
The plan would incorporate as many as 100 soldiers in a non-combat, training role to assist Iraqi forces against fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS or ISIL) that have gained ground in nation’s north and west, three US officials told AP on the condition of anonymity.
The special forces plan is reportedly high on the list of options the US is considering in offering the Shiite-led government in Iraq help against the Sunni insurgents as ISIS pushes toward the nation’s capital.
Earlier Monday, US Secretary of State John Kerry said that – in addition to security assistance like Hellfire missiles and surveillance drones already supplied to Iraq – the US is considering using manned or unmanned drone airstrikes to counter insurgent momentum.
It is yet clear whether the special forces soldiers on the advising and “non-operational training” mission would be sent to Baghdad or elsewhere closer to cities and areas where ISIS and other militant groups have established control in a nation reeling from continual violence and division.
The troops would be under the authority of the US ambassador, a US official said, and that they would be there to train Iraqi security forces on military bases.
It was also reported Monday that the USS Mesa Verde, with 550 Marines onboard, has entered the Persian Gulf on Monday for a possible operation in Iraq.
Iraq has requested the hastened delivery of major weapons orders, including dozens of F-16 fighter jets contracted with Lockheed Martin and dozens of Boeing’s Apache helicopters, to counter the insurgent fighters.
“What we are saying is that there needs to be a sense of urgency,” Lukman Faily, Iraq’s ambassador to the US, told The Wall Street Journal last week. “We now expect the US to appreciate this sense of urgency.”
An offshoot of Al-Qaeda, ISIS, the hyper-fundamentalist group active in Iraq and Syria, fell out with the global terrorist network. It gained notoriety for its ruthless tactics, which include publicly crucifying and beheading those who violate their strict religious interpretations. Its rise and consolidation owe a great deal to the simultaneous power vacuum that arose after the Syrian civil war broke out and the ongoing tumult in Iraq after the US invasion and occupation.
Fighting against the Shia governments of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad and Bashar Assad in Damascus has also allowed the Sunni organization to recruit thousands of people under its aim of eventually turning the entire region into an ultraconservative Muslim caliphate.