Pentagon warns ISIS poses ‘legitimate threat’ as US advisers arrive

Pentagon officials warned Tuesday that the Sunni extremist group seizing cities in Iraq is a "legitimate threat" to Baghdad, as U.S. military advisers began arriving in the country to reverse the security meltdown.

"They continue to press into central and southern Iraq,” Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), an al Qaeda-inspired group.

“They're still fighting over this oil refinery, which I think remains contested territory right now. And they're still a legitimate threat to Baghdad," he added.

The U.S. has scrambled to get assets in place to help Iraqi forces beat back the threat from ISIS, which captured border crossings to Syria and Jordan over the weekend and controls large swathes of land inside Iraq.  The group is also battling for control of the Baiji refinery, the country’s largest, according to reports.

On Tuesday, approximately 40 of the 300 U.S. military advisers deployed by President Obama to Iraq began their work, with an additional 90 arriving to set up a joint operations center with local forces in Baghdad. 

The troops will first assess the security situation in Iraq, and then make recommendations for follow-up teams on how best to train and advise the Iraqi security forces facing ISIS. 

The 90 new arrivals include members from all four services, with specialists in intelligence, logistics, and information technology, Kirby said. 

Another 50 troops will arrive in coming days, he said. 

That next wave of advisers may set up a second joint operations center in northern Iraq, where ISIS has established a presence. 

While the first 130 advisers will work with Iraqi forces at the top levels, some of the following troops could be assigned to the lower brigade level, Kirby said 

He said the first assessment of Iraq's security situation will be delivered in two to three weeks. 

"Everybody shares a sense of urgency here about what is going on inside Iraq," Kirby said.