The U.S. has deployed 130 Marines and Special Operations forces to northern Iraq to help assess the best way to rescue thousands of members of the Yazidi religious group taking refuge on Mount Sinjar, U.S. officials said late Tuesday. The military advisers "will not be engaged in a combat role," a Pentagon official tells The New York Times.
But the Defense Department left open the possibility that U.S. troops will soon take part in a multinational effort to create a safe passage for the Yazidi off Mount Sinjar and into Kurdish-controlled Iraq. That would likely put U.S. troops in direct combat with the Islamic State (ISIS) militants trying to kill the Yazidi — a proposition President Obama has not signed off on, but one the military advisers are exploring. Britain said Tuesday that it is sending Chinook helicopters to the region, and other countries are considering sending various forms of aid, too.
The 130 Marines and Special Ops forces bring the number of U.S. military personnel in Iraq above 1,000, adding to the roughly 900 American military advisers and embassy security personnel already in the country.
But don't call it "mission creep," says U.S. Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "You hear the term mission creep beginning to make its way around the airwaves," he told USA Today on Tuesday. "What we do is mission match." Dempsey said the U.S. was mostly filling gaps in Iraqi and Kurdish capabilities, and that the U.S. involvement in safeguarding the Yazidi and protecting Erbil could last months but not "in perpetuity."