U.S. president Barack Obama is sending 350 more troops to Iraq. The reinforcements will help keep watch over Washington’s diplomats at the embassy in Baghdad.
The White House says the State Department specifically asked for these extra troops. Hundreds of American soldiers are already providing security for diplomatic posts in the war-torn country—and have been since June.
Last month, more than 400 troops were assigned to force protection in Baghdad. Fifty-five of these people will leave Iraq as the new personnel arrive.
The Pentagon has kept any details about the force in Iraq under wraps. However, the 55-person reduction suggests that the Marine Corps’ Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team—a special emergency unit that bulks up American facilities in imminent danger of attack—is heading back to base.
We also don’t know which military branches or units are providing the troops for the new deployment, but the Pentagon has offered some clues.
This new contingent “will include a headquarters element, medical personnel, associated helicopters and an air liaison team,” Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said in an recent statement. The force is also coming from somewhere else in the region, according to the official releases.
The Army rotates detachments of UH-60 Black Hawks through its base in Kuwait on a regular basis. The ground branch uses this type of helicopter for rescue missions and to get injured soldiers off the battlefield.
Also possible—though far less likely—is that Navy MH-60s from the carrier USS George H.W. Bush could handle the medical-evacuation portion of the new mission. The sailing branch formed the unique 2515th Air Ambulance Detachment during the occupation of Iraq in order to help rush casualties to hospitals.
Whatever the case, the new helicopters will no doubt join the Army’s Apache gunships at Baghdad International Airport. The State Department also has its own fleet of civilian-style helos in the country, flown by contractors.
Both the State Department and the Pentagon say they’re worried that Islamic State extremists might threaten the Iraqi capital. The group claims it has established an Islamic caliphate across eastern Syria and northern Iraq.
In all, the U.S. protective force in Iraq is set to almost double in size. Last month, the Pentagon told War Is Boring that approximately 800 American military personnel were in Iraq. This number did not include a commando force that flew in to check up on refugees trapped on Mount Sinjar.
The new deployment will likely push the total number of American troops in Iraq over 1,000. Washington continues to insist that “these additional forces will not serve in a combat role.”
At top—A Marine exits an Army UH-60 during a training exercise in Kuwait. Army photo