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December 22, 2014

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US forces flow into Baghdad to assess Iraq troops

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Karim Kadim / AP

Iraqi army soldiers parade inside the main army recruiting center during a recruiting drive for men to volunteer for military service in Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, June 19, 2014, after authorities urged Iraqis to help battle insurgents.

WASHINGTON — Nearly half of the roughly 300 U.S. military advisers and special operations forces expected to go to Iraq are now in Baghdad and have begun to assess Iraqi forces in the fight against Sunni militants, the Pentagon said Tuesday as the U.S. ramped up aid to the besieged country.

Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby told reporters the troops there included two teams of special forces and about 90 advisers, intelligence analysts, commandos and some other support personnel needed to set up a joint operations center in Baghdad. Another four teams of special forces would arrive in the next few days, Kirby said.

Those troops, added to the approximately 360 other U.S. forces that are in and around the embassy in Baghdad to perform security, would bring the total U.S military presence in Iraq to about 560.

Kirby also said the U.S. was conducting up to 35 surveillance missions over Iraq daily to provide intelligence on the situation on the ground as Iraqi troops battle the aggressive and fast-moving insurgency.

President Barack Obama last week announced he would send as many as 300 advisers into Iraq to assess and advise Iraqi security forces. Part of that plan involved setting up two joint operating centers — one in Baghdad and the other in northern Iraq, where a lot of the fighting has taken place.

The teams, largely made up of Army Green Berets, will evaluate the readiness of the Iraqi troops and their senior headquarters commanders in an effort to determine how best the U.S. can bolster the security force and where other additional advisers might be needed.

Kirby said the initial assessments from the teams could be completed in the next two weeks to three weeks, but he said there was no timeline for how long the troops would be in Iraq.

"I don't have a fixed date for you as a deadline or an end date, but it's very clear this will be a limited, short-term mission," he said.

He said the insurgency was well organized and aided by foreign fighters and Sunni sympathizers in the country.

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