THE United States will send approximately 750 soldiers to the Middle East immediately, Defense Secretary Mark Esper confirmed in a written statement Tuesday, after attacks broke out in Baghdad among hundreds of protesters in response to airstrikes in Iraq and Syria conducted by US forces on Sunday.
“At the direction of the Commander in Chief, I have authorised the deployment of an infantry battalion from the Immediate Response Force of the 82nd Airborne Division (in Fort Bragg, North Carolina) to the U.S. Central Command area of operations in response to recent events in Iraq,” Esper said, adding that additional forces “are prepared to deploy over the next several days.”
“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 added.
In a statement earlier Tuesday, Esper said the US would deploy “additional forces to support our personnel at the Embassy” and that officials had “taken appropriate force protection actions to ensure the safety of American citizens, military personnel and diplomats” serving in Iraq.
Protesters angry about U.S. airstrikes on Iraq hurled stones and torched a security post at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad on Tuesday, setting off a confrontation with guards and prompting the United States to send additional troops to the Middle East.
The protests posed a new foreign policy challenge for U.S. President Donald Trump, who faces re-election in 2020.
Trump confirmed Tuesday that the airstrikes were a response to a recent attack that killed a US contractor. He blamed Iran both for the contractor’s death and Tuesday’s attack on the embassy.
“Iran killed an American contractor, wounding many. We strongly responded, and always will. Now Iran is orchestrating an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Iraq. They will be held fully responsible. In addition, we expect Iraq to use its forces to protect the Embassy!” Trump tweeted.
He threatened to retaliate against Iran but said later he does not want to go to war.
The State Department said diplomatic personnel inside were safe and there were no plans to evacuate them.
Embassy guards used stun grenades and tear gas to repel protesters, who stormed and burned the security post at the entrance but did not breach the main compound.
The incident came seven years after the 2012 attack by armed militants on the US diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, that resulted in the death of the US ambassador and three other Americans and led to multiple congressional investigations.