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U.S. sends 300 more troops to Iraq, narrows options for second operations center

by Phil Stewart and Missy Ryan, Reuters

June 30, 2014 | 3:37 pm

<em>Iraqi security forces fire artillery during clashes with Sunni militant group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) on the outskirts of the town of Udaim in Diyala province, June 22, 2014. Credit, Reuters/Stringer</em>

Iraqi security forces fire artillery during clashes with Sunni militant group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) on the outskirts of the town of Udaim in Diyala province, June 22, 2014. Credit, Reuters/Stringer

The United States is again ramping up its military presence in Iraq, sending around 300 additional troops into the country as well as a detachment of helicopters and drone aircraft, the Pentagon said on Monday.

Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said about 200 forces arrived on Sunday inIraq to reinforce security at the U.S. embassy, its support facilities and Baghdad International Airport. Another 100 personnel were also due to move to Baghdad to "provide security and logistics support."

"These forces are separate and apart from the up to 300 personnel the president authorized to establish two joint operations centers and conduct an assessment of how the U.S. can provide additional support to Iraq's security forces," Kirby said in a statement.

There are now about 750 U.S. military personnel in Iraq, including soldiers tasked to assess Iraqi's military and to protect U.S. personnel there, and military advisers who have been stationed there since the U.S. withdrawal in 2011.

The new troop movement is part of the Obama administration's attempt to help Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's push back the stunning gains that militants from the Islamic State in Syria and the Levant (ISIL) have made over the last few weeks.

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the United States was also considering putting up a new joint military operations center in the northwest of Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region.

While no final decisions have been made, the official said that the new operations center, which would be the second such cell the United States has established since Iraq's security deteriorated earlier this month, could be placed in the province of Duhok, in Iraq's farthest northern reaches near Syria and Turkey.

U.S. soldiers at a similar joint operations center in Baghdad are gathering information about the situation on the ground and overseeing U.S. soldiers who are taking stock of the Iraqi military in the field.

In addition to supplying weaponry and conducting surveillance flights, Washington has also sent hundreds of military advisers and other soldiers to assess the Iraqi army, which largely evaporated in northern Iraq when ISIL fighters swept in earlier this month, and to protect U.S. personnel.

President Barack Obama has not ruled out air strikes against ISIL, which has gained strength as the war in neighboring Syria has dragged on.

It was not immediately clear whether U.S. soldiers at the new joint operations center would be working primarily with the Peshemerga, the Kurdish forces that have long protected Iraq's Kurdish enclave, or whether forces from the Iraqi military commanded from Baghdad would be involved.

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