U.S. has boots ‘on the ground’ in Iraq’s Kurdistan
Special to WorldTribune.com
WASHINGTON — The United States has established a military presence in Iraq’s autonomous region of Kurdistan.
Officials said the Defense Department has overseen the arrival of more than 100 U.S. soldiers in Irbil, the capital of Kurdistan. They said the special operations force troops established a joint operations center with the Iraqi military.
“We have personnel on the ground in Irbil where our second joint
operations center has achieved initial operating capability,” Defense
Secretary Chuck Hagel said on July 3. “Assessment teams are evaluating the
capabilities and cohesiveness of Iraqi forces.”
In a statement on July 3, the Pentagon cited the rising U.S. military
presence in Iraq. The statement said nearly 800 “American service members”
were deployed in Baghdad and Irbil. In late June, President Barack Obama
approved the deployment of 300 SOF personnel to Baghdad.
The U.S. military presence consisted of SOF advisers to Iraq’s security
forces, JOC personnel and reinforcements for the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. So
far, the military has formed six assessment teams to visit Iraq Army
brigades and divisions around the capital. The first JOC was established in
Baghdad in late June.
“I don’t have the assessment teams’ exact language, but some initial
insights are that the ISF [Iraqi security forces] is stiffening, that
they’re capable of defending Baghdad,” Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a news conference.
Officials said the U.S. military assigned one group to secure Baghdad
International Airport, which contains U.S. aircraft. They said the group
arrived with helicopters and combat unmanned aerial vehicles.
“By reinforcing security at the U.S. embassy [and] its support
facilities at Baghdad International Airport, we’re helping provide our
diplomats time and space to work with Sunni, Kurd and Shia political leaders
as they attempt to form a new inclusive national unity government,” Hagel,
who participated in the news conference, said.
Officials did not say whether the JOC in Irbil contained a large
presence of Iraq Army troops. The Kurdish Regional Government has long
opposed any forces sent by the Shi’ite-led government in Baghdad.
Dempsey did not rule out that American advisers would participate in
Iraqi combat operations. The chairman also said that the Defense Department
has not yet determined the size of the U.S. force in Iraq.
“If the assessment comes back and reveals that it would be beneficial to
this effort and to our national security interests to put the advisers in a
different role, I will first consult with the secretary, we will consult
with the president,” Dempsey said. “We will match the resources we apply
with the authorities and responsibilities that go with them based on the
mission we undertake, and that is to be determined.”