The White House just announced that President Obama authorized hundreds of extra troops on the ground to protect the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
Press secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement that that the Defense Department authorization stemmed from a State Department request for “approximately 350 additional U.S. military personnel to protect our diplomatic facilities and personnel.”
“This action was taken at the recommendation of the Department of Defense after an extensive interagency review, and is part of the President’s commitment to protect our personnel and facilities in Iraq as we continue to support the Government of Iraq in its fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). These additional forces will not serve in a combat role,” Earnest said.
“The President has made clear his commitment to doing whatever is required to provide the necessary security for U.S. personnel and facilities around the world. The request he approved today will allow some previously deployed military personnel to depart Iraq, while at the same time providing a more robust, sustainable security force for our personnel and facilities in Baghdad.”
The notice came just hours after the video of American journalist Steve Sotloff’s beheading surfaced.
It also comes after Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) warned Sunday that Baghdad could be the next to fall.
“I believe their goal is Baghdad. I think it’s very, very serious and we have to have a strategy to deal with it in Syria and in Iraq in this new caliphate and to prevent that caliphate from expanding,” she said, stressing that ISIS “is on its way to Baghdad and I believe that they will try to attack our embassy from the West, which is a Sunni area where I believe they are infiltrating now.”
Earnest said tonight that “in addition to our efforts to protect our personnel, we will continue to support the Government of Iraq’s efforts to counter ISIL, which poses a threat not only to Iraq, but to the broader Middle East and U.S. personnel and interests in the region.”
“The President will be consulting this week with NATO allies regarding additional actions to take against ISIL and to develop a broad-based international coalition to implement a comprehensive strategy to protect our people and to support our partners in the fight against ISIL,” he said. “As part of this effort, Secretary Kerry, Secretary Hagel, and President Obama’s counterterrorism advisor, Lisa Monaco, will be traveling separately to the region in the near-term to build a stronger regional partnership.”
Obama had not issued a statement yet on the murder of Sotloff.
UPDATE 9 p.m.: Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said the announcement “builds upon previous embassy security deployments announced on June 15 and June 30 and will bring the total forces responsible for augmenting diplomatic security in Iraq up to approximately 820.”
“The additional joint forces will come from within the U.S. Central Command area of operations and will include a headquarters element, medical personnel, associated helicopters, and an air liaison team,” Kirby said. “In all, 405 U.S. military personnel will be sent to Baghdad to provide a more robust and sustainable security presence to help the Department of State continue their critical mission. With this order, 55 personnel who have been in Baghdad since June will redeploy outside of Iraq. Those 55 personnel will remain postured to deal with other security contingencies in the region, if necessary.”
“The Department of Defense will continue to plan and prepare further military options should they become necessary, and we will remain ready to protect our diplomats, our citizens, and our interests in Iraq, while we continue to work with the Iraqi government to counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.”