President Obama Orders 275 Troops to Indefinite Deployment in Iraq
In what may been seen as a hypocritical move by the Obama administration after telling Americans that he wouldn’t be sending U.S. ground forces to Iraq, the President sent a letter to Congress today informing them of the deployment of troops to Iraq.
The letter says that the President has deployed “up to approximately 275” American forces personnel to bolster security at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Seemingly aware of how this might be perceived, the letter also states that these troops are “deploying for the purpose of protecting U.S. citizens and property, if necessary, and is equipped for combat.”
I would suggest that this is a move designed to send a message not to ISIS, the terrorist militia marching on Baghdad, but to the government of Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq’s Prime Minister and possibly those concerned about “another Benghazi.” After asking for help from the U.S., President Obama said that any air support we provided would be contingent on political reforms in the Shia-dominated government in Baghdad.
After almost a decade in Iraq, the number of troops being sent is actually quite small, even for the Embassy. Shortly after U.S. troops pulled out in 2011, NPR ran a story about the “army of contractors” tasked with providing security.
They estimated that the Embassy would employ “some 15,000 workers” who were “protected by a private army consisting of as many as 5,000 security contractors who will carry assault weapons and fly armed helicopters.” However at the end of 2013, the contractors became employees of the Iraqi government, an RT.com report puts the number of “specialists” in Iraq since February still at 5,000.
However, when the recent spate of violence crept ever closer to Baghdad, other contractors have been advised to evacuate personnel and many are complying. For the troops being deployed indefinitely to the Embassy, there is a good chance they could not see combat.
Firstly, all U.S. troops deployed overseas are “equipped for combat,” as this is part of the job description. That said, Baghdad is a heavily fortified city and unlikely to fall as quickly as some of the other cities taken by ISIS. If the city were to fall, it is most likely these troops would cover and assist with evacuation of the Embassy rather than direct engagement with militant fighters, much like during the fall of Saigon.
Photo by US Army (2010) via Flickr Creative Commons.