WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama has nearly doubled the number of U.S. troops deployed to Iraq in recent weeks to deal with the threat posed by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant militants.
There are now approximately 750 American troops in Iraq, including the 150 or so who were assigned to the Office of Security Cooperation at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad before the latest crisis erupted, according to Pentagon figures.
On Sunday and Monday, the U.S. military sent approximately 200 personnel to reinforce security at the embassy, its support facilities, and Baghdad International Airport. These troops arrived from locations in and around the Middle East. The augmented force includes helicopters and drones, Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said in a statement. Kirby said the aircraft will bolster airfield and travel route security.
“Similar to the U.S. security personnel who arrived in Baghdad earlier this month to provide support and security for U.S. personnel and the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, they will integrate with existing U.S. Embassy security teams. The presence of these additional forces will help enable the Embassy to continue its critical diplomatic mission and work with Iraq on challenges they are facing as they confront ISIL,” Kirby said.
Obama gave no end date for the deployment.
“This force is deploying for the purpose of protecting U.S. citizens and property, if necessary, and is equipped for combat. This force will remain in Iraq until the security situation becomes such that it is no longer needed,” Obama said in a letter to lawmakers Monday informing them of the new deployment.
Obama has ruled out using ground forces for combat missions in Iraq, but U.S. military personnel always maintain the right of self-defense.
Another 100 troops who were pre-positioned in neighboring countries will also go into Baghdad to provide security and logistics support, Kirby said. The Pentagon previously had announced that those personnel had been placed near Iraq as a contingency force.
These additional 300 servicemembers being deployed are separate from the 140 troops that Obama sent to Iraq last week to establish a joint operations center and conduct an assessment of how the U.S. can provide support to Iraq’s security forces as they confront insurgents that have overrun much of the country. Those 140 troops joined 40 personnel that were already on the ground in Baghdad setting up the JOC. Obama has authorized up to 300 servicemembers to participate in the advisory mission, including special operators. The JOC is now up and running, according to the Pentagon.
The forces being sent this week will augment the approximately 170 troops that were deployed to Baghdad in mid-June to boost security at U.S. diplomatic facilities.
Amid ongoing violence, the State Department has sent some Embassy staff to safer locations in Iraq, including the consulates in Irbil and Basra.
During the past two weeks, the U.S. has been conducting 30 to 35 intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance flights over Iraq each day using manned and unmanned aircraft. Last week, Kirby said that some of those planes had been armed to provide force protection to U.S. personnel on the ground and in preparation for potential airstrikes that Obama is considering.
Previous ISR flights had been conducted from neighboring countries and possibly U.S. Navy ships stationed in the Persian Gulf. With this new deployment, the U.S. military has stationed additional air power inside Iraq.