TIME Iraq

The First U.S. Special Forces Have Arrived in Baghdad

Members of the Iraqi security forces take their positions during an intensive security deployment west of Baghdad, June 24, 2014.
Members of the Iraqi security forces take their positions during an intensive security deployment west of Baghdad, June 24, 2014. Ahmed Saad—Reuters

They are there to consult and not engage in combat, although Washington has not ruled out air strikes

A number of U.S. military advisers landed in Baghdad on Tuesday to establish a strategic base in the city, from which they will conduct intelligence evaluations of the crisis in northern Iraq.

They are the first of 300 Special Forces troops deployed by President Barack Obama to aid the Iraqi army in its defense against the Sunni militant forces quickly encroaching southward toward the capital.

Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said that approximately 90 troops had landed in Iraq, to be followed by 50 more from within the Central Command region. “These teams will assess the cohesiveness and readiness of Iraqi security forces, higher headquarters in Baghdad, and examine the most effective and efficient way to introduce follow-on advisers,” he said.

The deployment accompanies an effort by Washington to fortify intelligence operations in the country, which for now may be the extent of direct U.S. engagement in the ongoing conflict. The President and other Administration officials have stressed that the troops stationing themselves in Baghdad this week are there in a strictly consultative capacity — at least for the time being.

“American forces will not be returning to combat in Iraq, but we will help Iraqis as they take the fight to terrorists who threaten the Iraqi people, the region and American interests as well,” Obama said in a press conference last week.

The Commander in Chief’s reluctance to send troops to the front lines has prompted criticism of his approach to foreign policy, including a controversial essay in the Wall Street Journal by former Vice President Dick Cheney, who wrote that Obama’s military inaction in Iraq since withdrawing troops in 2011 has enabled “American defeat snatched from the jaws of victory.”

According to a New York Times poll published on Monday, Americans are split on whether air strikes are prudent, though a majority oppose direct combat by ground troops.

Nearly 70% of those surveyed, however, felt that the President had been vague in explaining his Administration’s goals in Iraq. His next move is likewise uncertain, although he maintains that air strikes are not entirely out of the question.

“Going forward, we will be prepared to take targeted and precise military action if and when we determine the situation on the ground requires it,” Obama said.

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