(CNSNews.com) – Around 130 more U.S. troops have arrived in northern Iraq, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced Tuesday, saying their mission was to “take a closer look and give a more in-depth assessment of where we can continue to help the Iraqis.”
Speaking to Marines at Camp Pendleton, Calif. after flying in from Australia, Hagel stressed that the latest deployment “is not a combat-boots-on-the-ground operation.”
“We’re not going back into Iraq in any of the same combat mission dimensions that we once were in in Iraq,” he said.
The troops, who include “a lot of Marines,” arrived Tuesday in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish autonomous region. The city is home to a U.S. Consulate and one of two joint operations centers – the other is in Baghdad – where a total of about 250 U.S. military advisors have been based since President Obama announced their deployment in June.
As the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) jihadists captured territory across northern and western Iraq, Obama also sent hundreds of additional military personnel to reinforce security at the U.S. Embassy and the international airport in Baghdad.
The U.S. mission in northern Iraq, as outlined by Obama last Thursday night, is twofold: to provide humanitarian assistance to tens of thousands of people, many of them minority Yazidis, trapped on a mountain about 100 miles west of Erbil after fleeing the ISIS advance; and to carry out airstrikes against ISIS fighters.
Airstrikes would be launched in three sets of circumstances, Obama said: to stop ISIS fighters from advancing on Erbil; to protect U.S. forces or personnel anywhere in Iraq, including the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and the consulate in Erbil; and to help forces in Iraq in their efforts to break the jihadists’ siege of Mount Sinjar and protect the civilians trapped there. Those limits were again outlined in his formal notification to Congress the following day.
Hagel said at Camp Pendleton that the new troops sent to Erbil will help to evaluate options for rescuing the civilians trapped on the mountain.
He stressed that their mission was not a combat one.
“As the president has made very clear, we’re not going back into Iraq in any of the same combat mission dimensions that we once were in Iraq,” he said. “Very specifically, this is not a combat-boots-on-the-ground operation.”
“We’re not going to have that kind of operation,” Hagel added. “But short of that, there are some things we can continue to do, and we are doing.”
Hagel described ISIS as “an ideology that’s connected to an army.”
“It’s a force and a dimension that the world has never seen before like we have seen it now.”
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said on Twitter that Obama had authorized, at Hagel’s request, “temporarily sending approximately 130 additional U.S. military personnel to northern Iraq. They will assess scope of the humanitarian mission and develop additional humanitarian assistance options beyond the current airdrop effort.”
At the department’s daily briefing earlier, Harf said the administration was “working on” options to rescue the civilians trapped on Mount Sinjar
“We are looking at ways to see if there’s a humanitarian corridor that can be established, if there are safe locales for people to go to, because ultimately you can’t have tens of thousands of people trapped on a mountain even with the airdrops,” she said.
“So there needs to be a long-term humanitarian solution. We’re looking at that right now. It’s a really, really tough security challenge, also humanitarian challenge.”
U.S. Central Command said late Tuesday that the military had carried out a sixth airdrop of food and water for those on Mount Sinjar, bringing the total delivered so far to “up to 100,000 meals and more than 27,000 gallons of fresh drinking water.”