WASHINGTON, D.C. U.S. forces in Baghdad have opened a joint operations center in the city to assess the security situation in the wake of the rapid territorial gains made by Sunni militants, bringing the number of American service members there to about 500, Defense Department officials said today.
An additional four teams of U.S. advisors arrived in the Iraqi capital, Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren said, bringing the number of teams to six.
Warren described the deployments as enhanced teams commanded by lieutenant colonels that are fanning out across Baghdad and assessing the Iraqi military. President Barack Obama ordered the teams to Iraq following gains made by Syrian-based Sunni militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant who have overrun towns and cities across Iraqs northern and western provinces as they move closer to Baghdad, facing little or no resistance from Iraqi security forces.
The four teams bring 50 people with them, which puts the number of American assessors on the ground to 90. Warren said an additional 90 personnel have set up the joint operations center in Baghdad, meaning 180 of the possible 300 U.S. service members Obama said he is prepared to send to Iraq have arrived.
Overall, there are approximately 500 American military personnel in Iraq. Some of them are conducting an advise and assist mission, some are manning the joint operations center, some of them are part of the [Office of Security Cooperation] and yet others are Marines that are part of a [fleet anti-terrorism security team] platoon, Warren said.
The assessment teams are mostly made up of Army Special Forces personnel. They will advise and assist the Iraqi military at various levels of command.
The teams will take two to three weeks to assess the Iraqi military and make their reports, officials said.
Warren would not comment on reports that Iran is operating drones over Iraq and supplying the Baghdad government with arms. He did however, call on all regional countries to participate constructively in the situation in Iraq. The United States does not want ethnic or religious tensions increased.
Warren said the United States will establish another joint operations center in northern Iraq in the coming days or weeks. The commander of the U.S. forces in Iraq is Army Maj. Gen. Dana Pittard.