The U.S. has sent 170 military personnel to Iraq to shore up security for Americans and the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, defense officials said Monday — and a hundred more could be on the way.
President Barack Obama formally notified Congress of the assignment in a letter under the War Powers Act on Monday, which said "up to approximately 275" personnel were being reassigned, noting specifically that they are "equipped for combat."
Defense officials confirmed Monday that 170 military personnel were already in place, having moved into the country sometime over the weekend. They said Obama pegged the number at 275 to give himself a "little extra headroom" in case he needs to send reinforcements.
Obama said last week that "I don't rule anything out" as Iraq has spiraled out of control amid Sunni-Shiite sectarian violence in recent days. At the same time, he insisted that the U.S. wouldn't send ground troops.
And while the 170 personnel are equipped for combat, the White House said they're in Iraq only to "provide support and security for U.S. personnel and the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad," and to help the State Department move some embassy staff to U.S. consulates elsewhere in the country.
Security and protection are the same reasons U.S. officials have given for sending several naval ships to the Persian Gulf, although a senior defense official told NBC News: "If the president orders airstrikes, we have plenty of firepower in the Gulf."
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said through a spokesman that he supported Obama's decision, but he called on the president to come up with a "comprehensive strategy to protect America's national security interests in Iraq."
"Too many Americans sacrificed too much to allow Iraq to slip back into chaos," Boehner said.
Courtney Kube and Frank Thorp V of NBC News contributed to this report.