President Obama announced that American troops are being deployed to Iraq
Returning nearly three years after the United States withdrew in 2011
Deployed to protect American personnel and embassy staff in Baghdad
This comes as John Kerry says Washington is 'open to discussions' with Tehran about military cooperation
He also told Yahoo! News correspondent Katie Couric that drone strikes also 'may well be' an option in the coming days
Just a year ago, Obama was weighing ever-tougher sanctions against Iran's mullahs
ISIS captured Tal Afar, a key northern town along the highway to Syria, early on Monday, with a population of 200,000 people
The US Navy has sent yet another ship into the Persian Gulf, this time to carry Osprey combat helicopters
President Obama announced on Monday evening that US ground troops 'equipped for combat' are being sent to Iraq – just days after claiming that no American soldiers would be deployed to the war-torn country.
In a letter to Congress, the president said American troops will be returning to Iraq only three years after they left and their deployment began on Sunday.
Obama said that their only purpose will be to protect U.S. personnel and the embassy in Baghdad – and not to join in the fierce fighting raging outside the Iraqi capital.
The president did tell Congress, however, that American military personnel in Baghdad will be 'equipped for combat.'
The president did not give a deadline for the troops exit, only that the 275 soldiers will remain in Iraq for as long as they are needed to protect US interests.
About 160 troops are already in Iraq, including 50 Marines and more than 100 U.S. Army soldiers. Some of those soldiers have only recently arrived.
Under the authorization Obama outlined, a U.S. official says the U.S. will put an additional 100 soldiers in a nearby third country where they would be held in reserve until needed.
The White House says the U.S. military personnel are entering Iraq with its consent.
'The personnel will provide assistance to the Department of State,' White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a statement, 'in connection with the temporary relocation of some staff from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad to the U.S. Consulates General in Basra and Erbil and to the Iraq Support Unit in Amman [Jordan].'
'The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad remains open,' Carney added, 'and a substantial majority of the U.S. Embassy presence in Iraq will remain in place and the embassy will be fully equipped to carry out its national security mission.'
The move comes as jihadists of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) battle Iraqi security forces for control of a strategic northern town, and Washington weighs possible drone strikes against the militants.
The ISIS fighters have taken control of a swath of territory north of Baghdad in a drive towards the Iraqi capital launched a week ago.
A White House official also said Monday that the Obama administration is considering the deployment of a small contingent of Special Forces to Iraq, specifically to help Mouri al-Maliki's government slow the advance of the Sunni insurgents
Obama has explicitly said American ground troops won't surge into the nation once patrolled by more than 148,000 U.S. servicemen and women.
But sending Navy SEALs and Army Rangers into harm's way could help ISIS draw the U.S. into a series of firefights to which Obama would likely have to respond with greater force.
Officials said, however, that those 'special operators' would only be employed to help stabilize a collapsing security situation by assisting and training Iraq's regular and reserve army.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a U.S official told the Associated Press that up to 100 special operators would fall under the authority of the State Department, and would not be authorized to engage in combat.
This important development comes as the Obama administration said it was willing to take the extraordinary step of talking to Iran about cooperating over the deteriorating security conditions in Iraq.
Secretary of State John Kerry said on Monday that he is not ruling out potential U.S.-Iranian military actions to stem the advance of Sunni extremists.
Kerry also said in an interview with Yahoo! News that U.S. drone strikes 'may well be' an option.
He said Washington is 'open to discussions' with Tehran if the Iranians can help end the violence and restore confidence in the Iraqi government. Asked about possible military cooperation with Iran, Kerry said he would 'not rule out anything that would be constructive.' However, he stressed that any contacts with Iran would move 'step-by-step.'
U.S. officials said earlier there is a possibility that Undersecretary of State William Burns may discuss Iraq with an Iranian delegation at nuclear talks in Vienna. But Senator John McCain said any alliance with Iran would be the 'height of folly'.
'We're open to discussions if there is something constructive that can be contributed by Iran, if Iran is prepared to do something that is going to respect the integrity and sovereignty of Iraq and ability of the government to reform,' Kerry said.
The Obama administration is also considering unilateral airstrikes to slow an al-Qaeda-inspired insurgency that is threatening the government of President Nouri al-Maliki.
Kerry said Monday those are still an option.
'They are not the whole answer, but they may well be one of the options that are important to be able to stem the tide and stop the movement of people who are moving around in open convoys and trucks and terrorizing people,' he said.
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