Some 750 paratroopers from the US Army’s 82nd Airborne Division are already on their way to Kuwait, and more may soon follow, after the US embassy in Baghdad was stormed and nearly taken by angry Iraqi militiamen.
The 82nd’s alert brigade has been ordered to deploy on Tuesday evening, Fox News reported citing multiple Pentagon officials, shortly before Defense Secretary Mark Esper confirmed it.
“The United States will protect our people and interests anywhere they are found around the world,” Esper said, announcing the deployment.
…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.
— Secretary of Defense Dr. Mark T. Esper (@EsperDoD) January 1, 2020
The initial force has already departed Fort Bragg, North Carolina on board C-17 transports. The Immediate Response Force (IRF) consists of an estimated 4,000 soldiers of the 82nd Deployment Ready Brigade (DRB), whose three battalions can be fielded within 96 hours if needed.
Hundreds of members of the Iraqi Shia militia Kataib Hezbollah stormed the US embassy in Baghdad on Tuesday, chanting “Death to America” and setting the entrance checkpoint on fire. They were protesting the US airstrikes that killed 25 of their members over the weekend, in what the Pentagon said was retaliation for last week’s rocket strike at a US base in Kirkuk that killed one contractor.
The militia withdrew after a task force of some 100 US Marines, accompanied by attack helicopters, showed up to reinforce the embassy. US President Donald Trump has blamed Iran for the attack and openly threatened Tehran with a “big price” to pay.
There are currently 60,000 US troops in the Middle East at the moment, of which some 5,000 are in Iraq. Almost 14,000 of those have been added since May 2019, with the Pentagon citing a rising “threat” from Iran.
In May 2018, the Trump administration unilaterally repudiated the nuclear deal negotiated with Tehran in 2015, and imposed sanctions intended to destroy the Iranian economy. Despite Trump’s campaign rhetoric about ending US involvement in endless foreign wars, his advisers have repeatedly called for what amounts to regime change in Tehran.
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