The White House is considering sending U.S. special operations forces to Iraq as the country's northwest collapses under the weight of a Sunni Islamist revolt, unnamed officials told the AP this afternoon.
Deploying a small number, perhaps 100, of the elite forces is "high on a list of military options" under review for Iraq, the three officials told the news service.
But it's unclear exactly what those troops' main function would be as the country devolves into sectarian conflict yet again:
It's not clear how quickly the special forces could arrive in Iraq. It's also unknown whether they would remain in Baghdad or be sent to the nation's north, where the al-Qaida-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has overrun several cities in the worst threat to the Shiite-led government since U.S. troops left in 2011.
White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said no combat troops would be sent to Iraq, but that the U.S. is looking at other options.
To keep up with those political semantics, any military operators sent overseas would likely be labeled as trainers, tasked with "advise and assist" roles for the still-hurting Iraqi security forces:
The troops would fall under the authority of the U.S. ambassador and would not be authorized to engage in combat, another U.S. official said. Their mission is "non-operational training" of both regular and counter terrorism units, which the military has interpreted to mean training on military bases, not in the field, the official said.
Even so, it's unlikely that the U.S. elite forces would be prevented from engaging in action, perhaps helping to guide airstrikes or operating with Iraqi troops in the field, if the U.S. or Iraqi governments deem it necessary.
About a hundred extra soldiers and Marines have already deployed to Iraq in recent weeks to fortify security for Americans at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, the AP also reported.
[Photo credit: U.S. Air Force]