(CNSNews.com) – The U.S. is sending around 275 troops, “equipped for combat,” to Iraq to bolster security at the American Embassy in Baghdad, President Obama informed Congress on Monday night – the first operational deployment there since the withdrawal in late 2011.
“This force is deploying for the purpose of protecting U.S. citizens and property, if necessary, and is equipped for combat,” he said in a War Powers Resolution notification to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and the president pro tempore of the Senate, Sen. Patrick Leahy. (D-Vt.).
“This force will remain in Iraq until the security situation becomes such that it is no longer needed,” Obama said. “This action has been directed consistent with my responsibility to protect U.S. citizens both at home and abroad, and in furtherance of U.S. national security and foreign policy interests, pursuant to my constitutional authority to conduct U.S. foreign relations and as Commander in Chief and Chief Executive.”
Obama said the deployment had begun on Sunday.
Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said teams totaling approximately 170 personnel began arriving in Baghdad over the weekend. A further approximately 100 personnel had been moved into the region for airfield management, security, and logistics support.
“All of these forces are trained to integrate with existing U.S. Embassy security teams or operate as a standalone force as directed,” Kirby said.
“The safety of personnel serving in diplomatic missions abroad is among our highest priorities. The presence of these additional forces will help enable the State Department to continue their critical diplomatic mission and work with Iraqis on challenges they are facing.”
Kirby said the troops headed for Iraq were coming from within U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibility. (CentCom’s area of responsibility stretches from Pakistan to Egypt, incorporating Central Asia and almost the entire Middle East.)
The troops are believed to include Army and Marines contingents, including members of a Bahrain-based Marines’ Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team (FAST).
At the weekend, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered the aircraft carrier U.S.S. George H. W. Bush to enter the Persian Gulf, and on Monday he instructed an amphibious transport ship, the U.S.S. Mesa Verde, to do so too. Kirby said the vessels would provide Obama with “additional options to protect American citizens and interests in Iraq, should he chose to use them.”
The Mesa Verde carries a complement of MV-22 Ospreys tilt-rotor aircraft, which boast vertical takeoff and landing capabilities.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said in a statement the personnel were being deployed to Baghdad with the Iraqi government’s consent.
He said they will help the State Department in temporarily relocating some embassy staff to U.S. consulates in Basra, in the south of the country; in Erbil, capital of the Kurdish autonomous region in the north; as well as to Amman, Jordan, where the U.S. Embassy maintains an Iraq Support Unit.
“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,” Carney said.
Sunni militias led by the al-Qaeda-inspired Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) have captured territory across northern Iraq over the past week and pledged to march on Baghdad. On Sunday, the State Department announced that it was reducing staff numbers at the embassy there, citing “ongoing instability and violence in certain areas.”
A U.S.-led coalition invaded Iraq in March 2003 to topple the Ba’athist regime. The last American troops were withdrawn at the end of 2011, in line with a security agreement signed in 2008, and after bilateral talks on retaining a U.S. training and counterterrorism force beyond the Dec. 31 deadline failed.
“Ending the Iraq war has allowed us to strike decisive blows against our enemies,” Obama declared in his State of the Union speech the following month. “From Pakistan to Yemen, the al-Qaeda operatives who remain are scrambling, knowing that they can’t escape the reach of the United States of America,” he said.