In a sign of the growing danger in Iraq, President Obama notified Congress on Monday that he was sending up to 275 U.S. military personnel “to provide support and security for U.S. personnel and the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.”
Obama also is considering sending 100 or fewer special operations troops to Iraq to advise its armed forces as it battles Sunni Muslim insurgents, according to a senior U.S. official. It was unclear whether they would be among the 275 military personnel or in addition to them.
Also Monday, the United Nations announced that it was moving nearly 60 staff members from Baghdad to neighboring Jordan.
A U.S. special operations team would operate under the ambassador in Baghdad and would be barred from engaging in ground combat, the senior U.S. official said. If approved, their mission would include coordinating U.S. airstrikes on insurgent positions, sharing intelligence with Iraqi security forces and giving Iraqi commanders tactical advice, the official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity in discussing military plans.
Obama, who said Friday that he would ask his national security team to give him options for Iraq, has not yet decided on a plan of action, officials said. Iraq’s U.S.-trained military had largely melted away in the face of the weeklong insurgent onslaught by a militant group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, with thousands of government troops reportedly deserting.
Sending U.S. special operations forces, even a small detachment, could be seen as backtracking from Obama’s pledge last week not to put U.S. troops back on the ground 2 1/2 years after he withdrew all U.S. forces from Iraq.
White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden would not confirm that special operations troops might go back as advisors, saying only that Americans would not take part in ground combat.
“The president was very clear that we will not be sending U.S. troops back into combat in Iraq,” she said in a statement. “That remains the case and he has asked his national security team to prepare a range of other options that could help support Iraqi security forces.”
Analysts and military officials said sending U.S. military advisors may prove unavoidable to reverse the insurgents’ momentum. Without U.S. experts to guide drones and manned aircraft to targets on the ground, airstrikes may prove ineffective or accidentally hit civilians.
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