Washington has announced it will send more troops to Iraq, chiefly to beef up embassy defenses. The move comes in addition to an earlier deployment to assess how the US might help.
US President Barack Obama said on Monday he had sent an extra 200 troops, equipped with surveillance equipment and helicopters, to protect US interests and citizens in Iraq.
The move, revealed in a letter to Congress, means there will be nearly 800 US soldiers in Iraq after Sunni Islamist radicals seized much of the north of the country.
“I have ordered up to approximately 200 additional US Armed Forces personnel to Iraq to reinforce security at the US Embassy, its support facilities, and the Baghdad International Airport,” Obama said in the letter.
“This force is deploying for the purpose of protecting US citizens and property, if necessary, and is equipped for combat.”
The Pentagon said the new detachment was also equipped with aerial drones to protect US personnel traveling away from the embassy in the event of an evacuation. Another 100 troops, already on standby in the region, were also said to have been deployed to assist with the same mission.
A growing US presence
The soldiers, who arrived on Sunday and Monday, are in addition to a force of some 300 US special forces personnel tasked with advising the Iraqi army and identifying how the US can provide support.
Once all troops are in place, the US is expected to have at least 750 personnel in Iraq.
Iraqi forces on Monday pressed on with their counter-offensive against jihadists in the city of Tikrit, some 160 kilometers (100 miles) north of Baghdad.
The rebel group, which had been calling itself the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), has now renamed itself the Islamic State (IS). It also declared a caliphate, stretching from Aleppo in Syria’s northwest, to Diyala province in eastern Iraq.
The group posted an audio recording declaring its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, “the caliph” and “leader for Muslims everywhere.”