Roughly 750 soldiers with the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division are slated to be wheels up soon headed for Kuwait with an additional 4,000 American troops expected to deploy later this week, a U.S. defense official confirmed to Military Times.
“At the direction of the Commander in Chief, I have authorized the deployment of an infantry battalion from the Immediate Response Force (IRF) of the 82nd Airborne Division to the U.S. Central Command area of operations in response to recent events in Iraq,” Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said Tuesday evening in a written statement.
“Approximately 750 soldiers will deploy to the region immediately, and additional forces from the IRF are prepared to deploy over the next several days,” Esper said.
The deployment of additional forces adds to the nearly 14,000 additional American troops that have deployed to the U.S. Central Command area of operations over the last six months to confront Iranian malign behavior.
The deployment comes in the wake of five U.S. airstrikes on Sunday that targeted an Iran-backed militia known as Kata’ib Hizbollah — a group U.S. officials have blamed for a recent spate of rocket attacks against Iraqi bases housing coalition troops.
The U.S. airstrikes were condemned by the Iraqi government and on Tuesday a mix of the Shia militant group members and their supporters attempted to storm the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
U.S. Central Command also said Tuesday that a detachment of 100 Marines from Kuwait with Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force, Crisis Response–Central Command deployed to the American embassy in Baghdad to reinforce security.
The Marines were requested by the U.S. State Department and their deployment was approved by Iraqi Security Forces, Central Command spokesman Mike Lawhorn told Military Times by phone Tuesday. Two Apache attack helicopters are providing over watch.
A U.S. State Department spokesperson told Military Times in an emailed statement that there has “been no breach” of the embassy and that there are “no plans to evacuate Embassy Baghdad.”
“We have made clear the United States will protect and defend its people, who are there to support a sovereign and independent Iraq. We are closely monitoring the situation in Iraq and call on the Government of Iraq to protect our diplomatic facilities per their obligations,” the State Department spokesperson told Military Times.
The State Department spokesperson said the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Matt Tueller is returning to the embassy “from previously scheduled personal travel.”
There have been 11 rocket attacks that have slammed Iraqi bases housing coalition troops over the last two months. U.S. officials have blamed Iran-backed militias in Iraq for the attacks.
On Dec. 27, nearly 30 rockets rocked an Iraqi base in Kirkuk killing an American contractor and wounding four American troops.
Iran has often used proxy forces to conduct attacks across the Middle East complicating efforts to blame Tehran for its malign behavior.
A U.S. State Department official told reporters Monday that Sunday’s strikes were about restoring deterrence and “not giving Iran the fiction of deniability” by using proxy forces to orchestrate deadly attacks across the Middle East.
“This deployment is an appropriate and precautionary action taken in response to increased threat levels against U.S. personnel and facilities, such as we witnessed in Baghdad today. The United States will protect our people and interests anywhere they are found around the world,” Esper said Tuesday.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.
Howard Altman is an award-winning editor and reporter who was previously the military reporter for the Tampa Bay Times and before that the Tampa Tribune, where he covered USCENTCOM, USSOCOM and SOF writ large among many other topics.