By Martin Matishak - 06/16/14 09:43 AM EDT
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Monday ordered the “quick reaction” USS Mesa Verde into the Persian Gulf as the turmoil in Iraq deepened.
The combat ship is home to 500 Marines and a number of MV-22 attack helicopters, and would allow the U.S. to take aggressive actions quickly if ordered by President Obama.
Placing the Mesa Verde in the Persian Gulf gives Obama “additional options to protect American citizens and interest in Iraq, should he choose to use them,” according to Defense Department spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby.
Obama has said that he is considering a number of options in Iraq, where Sunni militants have taken over several cities and the central government is crumbling. He has insisted he will not put any U.S. soldiers on the ground in Iraq, however.
The U.S. military could also be used to rescue U.S. citizens in Iraq.
The State Department on Sunday announced that it was boosting security at the U.S. Embassy in Iraq’s capital and sending some personnel to other diplomatic facilities throughout the country.
“Overall, a substantial majority of the U.S. embassy presence in Iraq will remain in place and the embassy will be fully equipped to carry out its national security mission,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.
Kirby, is a separate statement, said that a “small number” of military personnel are helping to keep State facilities in Baghdad secure. He said embassy staffers being moved by commercial, charter and State Department aircraft, adding that the military as “airlift assets at the ready” should the State Department request them.