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Following a wave of violence that has seen two major cities fall to insurgent forces, the government of Iraq has asked the United States for air assistance in quelling the uprising by al-Qaeda affiliated militants, U.S. officials confirmed to NBC News on Wednesday.
The Wall Street Journal was the first to report the request, citing senior officials who noted that the White House is mulling several options, "including the possibility of providing 'kinetic support' for the Iraqi military" which is fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, an affiliate of al-Qaeda known by the initials ISIS or ISIL.
Over the past few days, the group's militants, many of them in fast-moving pickup trucks mounted with machine guns, captured Iraq's second-largest city, Mosul, before barreling south to take the city of Tikrit — two urban centers in the heartland of northern Iraq's oil industry.
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Iraq has previously asked for drones it could use, but Washington didn't want to supply them to the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, which has close ties to Tehran and has permitted Iran to ship weapons to the Syria regime through Iraqi territory.
Officials on Tuesday did not want to discuss specifics of the potential military assistance.
"We are not going to get into details of our diplomatic discussions but the Government of Iraq has made clear that they welcome our support in their effort to confront ISIL," National Security Council official Bernadette Meehan told NBC News.
"We have expedited shipments of military equipment since the beginning of the year, ramped up training of Iraqi Security Forces, and worked intensively to help Iraq implement a holistic approach to counter this terrorist threat," she added. "Our assistance has been comprehensive, is continuing, and will increase."
Meanwhile, Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday spoke by phone to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan and pledged U.S. support following the ISIS's siege of the Turkish consulate in Mosul and kidnapping of various personnel — including the consul general and his family.
"The Vice President underscored (that) the United States condemns the actions taken by ISIL, calls for the safe and immediate return of the Turkish personnel and family members, and supports efforts by Iraqi national and Kurdish security forces to work together to combat the ISIL threat," the White House said in a statement.