U.S. military advisers begin work in Baghdad
U.S. says its forces have immunity guarantees from Iraq
The first teams of up to 300 U.S. military forces have begun their mission in the Iraqi capital to assist Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s battered forces fight a daring insurgency led by the al-Qaeda-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the Pentagon said Tuesday.
“We have begun to deploy initial assessment teams” and two teams of about 40 troops “have started their new mission,” Admiral John Kirby told reporters.
But he insisted their role is to evaluate the state of the Iraqi army and not to stage attacks on militants, which have swept across western and northern Iraq, AFP reported.
“This isn't about rushing to the rescue,” Kirby said.
“These teams will assess the cohesiveness and readiness of Iraqi security forces ...and examine the most effective and efficient way to introduce follow-on advisers.”
The U.S. troops would relay their findings to commanders within “the next two to three weeks.”
The first two teams were drawn from the U.S. embassy in Iraq, and an additional 90 troops have arrived to set up a joint operations center in Baghdad. Another 50 are due to deploy in the next few days.
U.S. officials said on Monday that Iraq has given assurances to the United States that the U.S. special operations forces will be shielded from possible prosecution in Iraqi courts, according to Reuters.
“The commander in chief would not make a decision to put our men and women in harm's way without getting some necessary assurances,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.
The new agreement struck with Baghdad via diplomatic note is far less sweeping and appeared far less formal than the U.S.–Iraq Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA.) signed in 2008. But the U.S. government said the assurances were enough, given the scope and size of the mission.
“With this agreement, we will be able to start establishing the first few assessment teams,” said Rear Admiral John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman.
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said the agreement would give protections similar to the ones already enjoyed by U.S. diplomatic personnel in Baghdad.
“Our troops will have the legal protections they need to perform their mission,” Harf said.
“They would, were something to arise, face due process for violations under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.”
Secretary of State John Kerry, who met Maliki in Baghdad on Monday, said U.S. support for Iraqi security forces will be “intense and sustained” to help them combat the Islamist insurgency that has swept through the country's north and west.
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