WASHINGTON — The USS Mesa Verde, carrying about 550 Marines, entered the Persian Gulf on Monday, as the U.S. prepares for potential Iraq contingency operations, according to Navy and Marine Corps officials.
The Mesa Verde, an amphibious transport dock, carries a complement of MV-22 Osprey aircraft, which can take off and land like a helicopter but fly like an airplane.
“Its presence in the Gulf adds to that of other U.S. naval ships already there …and provides the commander-in-chief additional options to protect American citizens and interests in Iraq, should he choose to use them,” Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said in a statement.
On Friday, President Barack Obama said that he was weighing the possibility of taking military action against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria militants, which have taken over large swathes of Iraq in the past week. No decisions have been made about the use of military force, officials have said.
On Saturday, DOD announced that the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush, along with the guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea and the guided-missile destroyer USS Truxtun, had been deployed to the Gulf.
On Sunday, the Pentagon said that a small number of DOD personnel had been sent to boost security at American diplomatic facilities in Baghdad.
“The U.S. military has airlift assets at the ready should State Department request them, as per normal inter-agency support arrangements,” Kirby said in a statement when the announcement was made.
U.S. officials are also concerned about the safety of American citizens and diplomatic facilities in the country, and the State Department has issued safety warnings to U.S. citizens who are there.
On Sunday, the State Department announced that it had temporarily relocated some diplomatic staff from the embassy in Baghdad to the U.S. consulates in Basra and Irbil, as well as Amman, Jordan, due to security concerns. However, the majority of U.S. Embassy personnel in Iraq will remain in place for now, according to the State Department.
The Obama administration was widely criticized for its response to the militant attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi in 2012, during which four Americans were killed, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.