The first of up to 300 US military advisers have begun their mission in Iraq. They have been tasked with evaluating the state of the Iraqi forces in their battle against Sunni militants.
The Pentagon on Tuesday said that nearly half of the US advisers and special operations forces are now on the ground in Baghdad to begin assessing the Iraqi forces.
"This isn't about rushing to the rescue," Rear Admiral John Kirby told reporters referring to the aggressive and fast-moving insurgency by militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
These teams will assess the cohesiveness and readiness of Iraqi security forces ...and examine the most effective and efficient way to introduce follow-on advisers," Kirby said.
Kirby also said the US is conducting up to 35 surveillance missions daily over Iraq to provide intelligence to Iraqi troops.
He did not say how long the advisers would be in place, but US troops would report their findings to commanders within "the next two to three weeks."
US President Barack Obama announced plans to send the advisers to Baghdad last week amid the ongoing onslaught of ISIS militants. Despite ruling out sending in combat troops, Obama left open the possibility of eventual air strikes against the extremists. The US has deployed an aircraft carrier to the Gulf.
Kerry in Iraq
Meanwhile on Tuesday, US Secretary of State John Kerry met Iraq's Kurdish leader Massoud Barazani in the regional capital Irbil. "This a very critical time for Iraq and the government formation challenge is the central challenge that we face," Kerry said during the meeting.
Iraqi Kurdish forces, known as peshmerga, have been the only forces that have managed to defend their territory against fighters of ISIS, which has has overtaken several key areas in Iraq's west and north.
Kerry reiterated Washington's demand to "produce the broad-based, inclusive government that all the Iraqis I have talked to are demanding." The US hopes that a power-sharing government will contain, if not end, sectarian strife in the country.
His visit in Irbil comes after he met Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, for closed-door talks in Baghdad on Monday.
hc/jm (Reuters, AFP, AP)