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4,000 US troops ready to deploy to Middle East after Iraq embassy attack

U.S. Army Paratroopers assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, deploy from Pope Army Airfield, North Carolina, Jan. 1, 2020. (U.S. Army photo by Capt. Robyn J. Haake)
January 02, 2020

Up to 4,000 U.S. troops are on standby, ready to deploy to the Middle East in response to destructive demonstrations by pro-Iranian groups at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq.

After demonstrators breached the embassy walls and set fires throughout the compound, the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division Immediate Response Force (IRF) was ordered to prepare for various deployment windows, including the full IRF group of up to 4,000 paratroopers in three rifle battalions, Fox News reported.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the first 750 paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division would deploy immediately as an “appropriate and precautionary action taken in response to increased threat levels” at the embassy.

Some paratroopers left their base in Fort Bragg, N.C. aboard Air Force C-17 cargo planes on Tuesday on the overseas flight to the Middle East.

The Army maintains the IRF group to respond to emergency calls such as the ones coming from the embassy in Iraq.

On Tuesday at least 100 U.S. Marines from the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response-Central Command (SPMAFTF-CR-CC) brought in on MV-22 Ospreys, landed at the embassy to provide added protection during the initial demonstrations.

AH-64 Apache helicopter gunships were also brought in to provide air support for the embassy.

The demonstrations began as a response to U.S. airstrikes against Iran-backed militias in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. strikes were themselves a retaliation for rocket attacks by the militias, which took the life of one U.S. contractor and injured other U.S. contractors and Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) members. Some 25 militia members were reported killed in the U.S. strikes and several more were wounded.

Iraqi military officials claimed the pro-Iranian paramilitary groups had withdrawn from the embassy on Wednesday. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reportedly warned Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi and President Barham Salih that Iraq has an obligation to provide security for the embassy and U.S. diplomatic personnel in the country.

On Thursday, Esper also announced the U.S. is prepared to launch preemptive strikes against in response to Iranian plans to attack other U.S. installations.

The USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier is reportedly in the Gulf of Oman and its strike group comes armed with hundreds of Tomahawk cruise missiles, in addition to the dozens of strike aircraft abroad the carrier.