Official: US not preparing for airstrikes

Senior administration officials hinted Thursday that the U.S. could take future military action in Iraq, but revealed that the U.S. is "not at the stage where we're preparing for airstrikes." 

"The president hasn't asked us to do that. But, you know, whenever it comes to that, where and when we do those kinds of things, we do them in a very precise, targeted, deliberate, measured way with the best possible intelligence that's available," a senior administration official said on a background call with reporters Thursday.

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The president announced earlier Thursday that he was sending up to 300 special operators to Iraq, in order to gather intelligence and assess next steps, including possible U.S. military action.

"If there were to be a situation where we were to decide to take action, of course that would also provide us [the ability] to be very careful that Iraqi security forces, civilians, again, would not be put unnecessarily at risk," the official said. 

Officials indicated the deployment would occur over time, but did not give a specific timeline. 

Of the 300, the U.S. would first deploy "several small teams of special operators, teams of about a dozen or so each," which would be embedded at the higher headquarters level within the Iraqi Security Forces and possibly at the brigade level of Iraqi forces. 

Those forces would "help give us better visibility into that situation on the ground, and to provide information and intelligence that we need to make any follow-on potential decisions regarding military options inside Iraq," a senior administration official said. 

The forces will also help Iraqi forces establish joint operations centers and help determine what kind of resources and staffing those centers need.

More than 775 U.S. troops are now authorized for deployment inside Iraq, and the numbers could increase.

Currently, there are between 200 and 300 U.S. forces who are inside Iraq providing security for diplomatic facilities, according to a defense official.

Earlier this week, the president authorized sending 275 additional U.S. forces there. On Thursday, the president authorized up to 300 Army Green Berets to be sent to Iraq.

In addition to the 775 that are authorized to be inside Baghdad, there are more than 30,000 troops in the region in total, the official said, including fixed and rotary wing aircraft.

The official said the 300 would not call in airstrikes, but could assist Iraqis in developing targets and plans for pursuing the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The 300 advisers would have the "necessary protections and authorities to be there," and have "the inherent right of self defense," a second senior administration official on the call said. 

If the U.S. sees personnel or its facilities threatened, or a threat emanating from the ISIS that could endanger other U.S. interests or the U.S. homeland, the first official said, it would "reserve the right to take direct action, including military action."