Paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team will replace about 100 Marines who were previously sent to bolster security forces at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, a U.S. Central Command spokesperson told Army Times.
Citing operational security, the official said they would not discuss the size of the force sent to the embassy or the timeline for their arrival.
The Marines, who came from the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response unit, will transition security duties at the embassy to an element of the 82nd’s Immediate Response Force brigade, the CENTCOM spokesperson said.
A majority of the paratroopers from that unit, totalling about 3,500 soldiers, are remaining in Kuwait. Stars and Stripes first reported the latest movement Wednesday.
The brigade previously deployed to the Middle East between Jan. 1 to 4, as tensions in the region reached a fever pitch. The situation has since diffused after both the United States and Iran signaled they intend to deescalate following what looked like a symbolic ballistic missile attack against Al Asad Air Base in western Iraq. There were no U.S. casualties in the strike and the Americans had several hours notice ahead of the attack.
The ballistic missiles were in response to a U.S. drone strike that killed Iranian Quds Force commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
The White House and Pentagon said the strike prevented an imminent attack against U.S. troops and diplomats, but neither have provided proof to back up that claim. Critics of the strike called it an assassination of a foreign leader.
The strike on Soleimani was the latest in a series of escalating tensions between Iran and its proxy forces on one side and the United States on the other. The series of incidents included the killing of an American contractor by a rocket attack, U.S. airstrikes against Iranian-back militias allegedly responsible for the death, and protests that burned a reception center at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, sparking the arrival of Marines.
Iraq’s Parliament called for the expulsion of U.S. troops from the country in reaction to the drone strike that killed Soleimani. There are an estimated 5,200 U.S. troops currently deployed there.
The 82nd Airborne Division’s deployment fell under the auspices of an Immediate Response Force mission. The deployment model emphasizes joint operations and brings more air assets, cyber capabilities and logistical support to paratroopers, according to a primer for the new model previously viewed by Army Times.
The new plan replaces the Global Response Force model that the division previously utilized, but appears to more heavily emphasize joint forcible entry operations and airborne assaults into denied environments, like that which Iran can produce through air defense systems and cyberattacks.