Meanwhile, President Obama is considering miltiary action against the Islamic insurgents, who have seized vast swaths of northern Iraq and are moving south toward the capital. Several U.S. warships have moved into the Persian Gulf, where they provide “the commander in chief additional options to protect American citizens and interests in Iraq, should he choose to use them,” said Rear Adm. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, on Monday.
The arrival of FAST Marines and a contingent of U.S. soldiers on the ground in Iraq on Sunday marked the first operational deployment of U.S. troops there since the withdrawal of combat forces in December 2011. Pentagon officials declined to identify the Army unit deployed to Baghdad. The Marine platoon is based out of nearby Bahrain, and is tasked with protecting American personnel and property, said Master Sgt. William Price, a spokesman for Marine Corps Forces Central Command.
FAST Marines are the traditional go-to assets when U.S. embassies require reinforcement in times of crises. The Marine Corps has two more forward-deployed FAST elements in Spain and Japan.
“This is a temporary thing,” Kirby said Monday. “There is no intention that this is any kind of permanent plus up. They are there temporarily, to assist with some relocation of some personnel who work at the embassy. They are not engaged in ferrying to and fro anyone. No military aircraft … is being used to ferry these folks.”
On Monday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered the amphibious transport dock Mesa Verde, part of the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group, to enter the Persian Gulf. It joins the carrier George H. W. Bush, which Hagel ordered to enter the Gulf on Saturday.
The carrier brings F/A-18 Super Hornets that could provide air strike capability over Iraq. The Mesa Verde carries more Marines, all members of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, along with MV-22 Osprey transport aircraft that will be in standby in case the State Department needs support to completely evacuate the embassy in Baghdad.
Also entering the Persian Gulf Saturday was the guided-missile cruiser Philippine Sea and the guided-missile destroyer Truxtun. The ships carry Tomahawk missiles that could reach inland Iraq.