The U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division’s alert brigade has been issued orders to deploy rapidly to Kuwait following an attack on the American embassy in Baghdad by a pro-Iranian mob.
At least 750 paratroopers are already making their way to the Middle East, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper confirmed in a statement on Tuesday, saying additional forces are prepared to deploy over the next several days.
‘This deployment is an appropriate and precautionary action taken in response to increased threat levels against U.S. personnel and facilities, such as we witnessed in Baghdad today,’ said Esper.
A total of 4,000 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne’s Deployment Ready Brigade have been put on notice for imminent deployment in the next 96 hours, three U.S. defense officials told Fox News.
The snap deployment comes amid rapidly rising tensions between Iran and the U.S. and a series of violent tit-for-tat escalations between the two countries.
On Tuesday, some 6,000 pro-Iran Shiite militia fighters stormed U.S. embassy in Baghdad, set walls ablaze and chanted ‘Death to America!’ in a violent retaliation for American air strikes. There were no reports of American casualties, and the attack was repelled after 100 Marines rapidly reinforced the compound.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the attack an act of ‘state-sponsored terrorism’ in an interview with CBS News, and President Donald Trump vowed that the Iranian government will be held ‘fully responsible’ for the attack.
Pompeo said in a statement that the attack was ‘orchestrated by terrorists’ and ‘abetted by Iranian proxies’, tweeting pictures that he said showed US-designated terrorists with Iranian ties outside the embassy.
‘The U.S. Embassy in Iraq is, & has been for hours, SAFE! Many of our great Warfighters, together with the most lethal military equipment in the world, was immediately rushed to the site. Thank you to the President & Prime Minister of Iraq for their rapid response upon request,’ Trump tweeted Tuesday evening.
‘Iran will be held fully responsible for lives lost, or damage incurred, at any of our facilities. They will pay a very BIG PRICE! This is not a Warning, it is a Threat. Happy New Year!’ he added.
In a third tweet he quipped ‘The Anti-Bengahzi!’ The post was an effort to distinguish his administration’s response to that of the Obama administration in the 2012 attack on a diplomatic compound in Libya that left four Americans dead. The tweet, which had a spelling error, was deleted soon after.
In the Tuesday attack militia members with the Shiite, pro-Iranian Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) swarmed the high-security compound, breaking down the main door to the compound and setting a fire in the reception area, forcing US soldiers inside the embassy to fire tear gas, stun grenades and warning shots. In the chaos 62 of the thousands of fighters were injured, according to PMF.
Ambassador to Iraq Matthew Tueller was on leave at the time of the attack and embassy staff had already been evacuated before the US Marine guard became besieged behind the bullet-proof glass and on the rooftops.
There were no reports of U.S. casualties during the embassy incursion.
The attack on the embassy was is in retaliation for US air strikes on the Iran-backed Kataeb Hezbollah on Sunday night, which killed two dozen fighters. Those strikes were in retaliation for last week’s killing of an American contractor at a U.S. base in Kirkuk.
On Tuesday US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the US was sending additional forces to the Baghdad embassy, while calling on Iraq to help protect American personnel, hours after Trump slammed the attack and warned that Iran will be ‘held fully responsible’.
Video footage from the scene shows the US military sending in Marines from Kuwait in two Army Aviation UH-60M utility helicopters and two CH-47F Chinook helicopters, which were then used to evacuate embassy personnel. Another clip shows a US Apache helicopter dropping warning flares above the embassy.
‘We have taken appropriate force protection actions to ensure the safety of American citizens, military personnel and diplomats in country, and to ensure our right of self-defense,’ Esper said in a statement.
‘As in all countries, we rely on host nation forces to assist in the protection of our personnel in country, and we call on the Government of Iraq to fulfill its international responsibilities to do so,’ he added.
An AH-64E Guardian attack helicopter was also seen flying over the embassy ready to open fire in case any Kataeb Hezbollah members attacked the incoming Marines.
The deployed Marines are reportedly from Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response-Central Command, a ground force deployed to the Middle East that specializes in crisis response, U.S. officials confirmed to Military.com. That force was created after the 2012 attack on the diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans.
On Tuesday morning Trump condemned the attack on the US embassy and pointed the blame to Iran.
‘Iran killed an American contractor, wounding many. We strongly responded, and always will.’ Trump tweeted on Tuesday morning. ‘Now Iran is orchestrating an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Iraq. They will be held fully responsible. In addition, we expect Iraq to use its forces to protect the Embassy, and so notified!’
‘To those many millions of people in Iraq who want freedom and who don’t want to be dominated and controlled by Iran, this is your time!’ the president added.
The attack on Tuesday unfolded after thousands attended the funerals of the Iran-backed Kataeb Hezbollah fighters killed in the American airstrikes on Sunday. After the processions, mourners and protesters rushed through the heavily fortified Green Zone without being stopped by Iraqi military as they burned U.S. flags and changed ‘Death to America! on their way to the consulate.
There were roughly 6,000 protesters at the height of the demonstrations, a U.S. official estimated, most hailing from Kataeb Hezbollah, also known as Hashd al-Shaabi.
US fighter jets bombarded three locations in Iraq on Sunday night, in retaliation for last week’s 36-rocket attack which killed an American contractor and injured several others at a base in Kirkuk, 170 miles north of Baghdad.
On Sunday the US struck a total of five Kataeb Hezbollah controlled weapon depots in Iraq and Syria, killing at least 25 people and wounding 51.
Baghdad had warned the American government that relations with the US were at risk following the airstrikes. There are also concerns over whether Iraqi forces allowed protesters to reach the Embassy, located in a usually restricted area.
The US attack – the largest targeting an Iraqi state-sanctioned militia in recent years – and the calls for retaliation represent a new escalation in the proxy war between the US and Iran playing out in Iraq.
Kataeb Hezbollah, which is separate but linked to the Lebanese Hezbollah, operates under the umbrella of the state-sanctioned predominantly Shiite militias known collectively as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). Many are supported by Iran.
The US says Kataeb Hezbollah is responsible for 11 attacks on US-led coalition bases in the past two months.
It was the first time in years that protesters have been able to reach the US embassy in Baghdad, the nation’s largest embassy which spans 104 acres.
The embassy, located in Baghdad’s Green Zone, has been placed on lockdown.
US Security guards were seen retreating inside the embassy early Tuesday as protesters hurled bottles and smashed security cameras outside the buildings.
Flames rose from the compound as furious rioters pressed up against the bullet-proof windows within the complex, taunting the US soldiers within and spraying pro-Hezbollah graffiti over the glass.
Half a dozen US Marine guards fired warning shots from the rooftops, followed by tear gas and stun grenades, at rioters who set blazes and smashed up barricades on the ground.
Hundreds of angry protesters, many in military fatigues, set up tents outside the embassy and set fire to trailers used by security guards along the embassy wall.
Many were seen carrying posters that read, ‘Parliament should oust US troops, or else we will’. Some carried banners with Trump’s face crossed out.
Some protesters carried what they said were the coffins of the fighters killed in the American airstrikes. Many were heard chanting ‘America, leave, leave!’ as per NPR.
Sixty-two people have been reported injured in the carnage by the PMF.
A spokesman for Kataeb Hizbollah said they intend to stake out the street in front of the embassy to push US officials to leave Iraq. ‘We will not leave these tents until the embassy and the ambassador leave Iraq,’ Mohammed Muhi said, according to the Times.
The US State Department disputed reports of a breach and said all US personnel are safe.
‘US personnel are secure and there has been no breach. There are no plans to evacuate Embassy Baghdad,’ a State Department spokesperson tells DailyMail.com. ‘The US Ambassador to Iraq, Matt Tueller, has been on previously scheduled personal travel for over a week and reports that he has been evacuated are false. He is returning to the Embassy.’