President Obama informed Congress Monday he was deploying 275 U.S. military personnel to Iraq to protect the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and assist State Department personnel moving around the war-torn country.
"This force is deploying for the purpose of protecting U.S. citizens and property, if necessary, and is equipped for combat," the president said in the letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). "This force will remain in Iraq until the security situation becomes such that it is no longer needed."
White House press secretary Jay Carney said the troops were entering Iraq with the consent of the government in Baghdad and stressed that the embassy there would "be fully equipped to carry out its national security mission."
The decision to deploy U.S. military to Baghdad was announced Monday by the Pentagon, who said the State Department had requested the additional assistance amid concerns over the progression of Sunni militants who have seized major cities in Iraq's northern provinces.
"A small number of DOD personnel are augmenting State Department security assets in Baghdad to help ensure the safety of our facilities," Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said Sunday. "The temporary relocation of some embassy personnel is being facilitated aboard commercial, charter and State Department aircraft as appropriate. The U.S. military has airlift assets at the ready should State Department request them, as per normal inter-agency support arrangements."
The U.S. has moved four warships to the region, including the USS Mesa Verde, which carries more than 500 Marines and Osprey planes that could be used to facilitate embassy evacuations.
According to the Pentagon, the deployment will include "a number of teams totaling approximately 170 U.S. personnel" who began arriving in Baghdad over the weekend to provide security assistance for embassy personnel. Another 100 service members will provide airfield management, security, and logistics support, if required.
"The safety of personnel serving in diplomatic missions abroad is among our highest priorities," Kirby said. "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."
Separately, the State Department issued a travel warning and said services at the embassy would be limited.
"Due to the relocation of personnel from Baghdad, the embassy will only be restricted in its ability to offer all consular services; but emergency services are always available to U.S. citizens in need at any embassy or consulate anywhere in the world," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
President Obama, who returned late Monday afternoon from California, met with his national security staff at the White House to discuss possible military and diplomatic options.
"The goal of this meeting is for the President to get an update on the thinking of individual members of his team as they’ve been working over the weekend," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.