U.S. military personnel who have been sent to Iraq in recent weeks are performing two distinct mission sets, Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said today.
Kirby said during a Pentagon news briefing that military orders since June 16 now total 770 authorized personnel, with 650 now in the country. Some are providing security assistance, and the rest are serving with assessment and advisory teams at the joint operations center in Baghdad.
“We obviously are watching the situation very closely, … given the limits of information that we have,” Kirby said. Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant militants remain a legitimate threat to Baghdad and its vicinity, he added.
Kirby said Defense Department officials still believe the Iraqi government takes the threat seriously and that Iraqi security forces in and around the Iraqi capital are continuing to reinforce themselves and even go on the offensive in some areas. But large swaths of the country either are still controlled by ISIL or contested between ISIL and the Iraqi security forces, he acknowledged.
As the assessment teams continue to provide information to Pentagon officials, Kirby said, President Barack Obama “needs the freedom” to adjust troop numbers accordingly to carry out the security assistance mission.
On June 16, DoD ordered 270 troops to Iraq with a War Powers Resolution authorization of 275, and 170 were in country that same day. A second order on June 26 authorized up to 300 advise and assess troops for assessment teams and the joint operations center, he added. By June 27, 180 of those service members were in Iraq, he said.
“So you have 90 supporting the joint operations center in Baghdad and another 90 that comprised our assessment and advise teams,” Kirby said. “That brought the total to 570 authorized, but 350 actually on the ground.”
The most recent order on June 30, Kirby noted, was for an additional 200 troops in the security assistance mission, separate and distinct from the assessment mission, and all 200 of them are now in and around Baghdad.
“That is what they're there to do -- to help provide extra security for our facilities, our people, our property, and to … help allow the State Department and the embassy to continue to function as it is,” he said.
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