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As ISIS pushes south in Iraq, U.S. personnel at risk

While the United States pulled all of its remaining troops from Iraq in 2011, there are thousands of Americans still there. They include U.S. diplomats and embassy personnel, private security contractors and private military advisers to the Iraqi government.

It's unclear what precautions each of these groups has taken as violence in Iraq mushrooms. The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad released an emergency message Tuesday, noting the ongoing military action between Iraqi forces and insurgents with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in Mosul. Since then, the insurgents have begun pushing south toward Baghdad.

On Wednesday, the State Department issued a new travel warning for Iraq, the first from the department since March. It warns that U.S. citizens remain "at high risk for kidnapping and terrorist violence" in Iraq, outlining many of the threats U.S. troops faced during its military operations there, including improvised explosive devices, mines, mortars and rockets.

A State Department official said in January that it still had about 5,000 contractors working in Iraq at the embassy and at consulates in Basra and Irbil. About 2,000 were U.S. civilians. That reflected a steep decrease from January 2013, when the State Department had about 12,500 contractors — 4,500 of them Americans — but it still underscores the significant logistics an evacuation of U.S. diplomatic facilities in Iraq would require.

In a different era, the United States might already have shuttered its embassy in the face of violence and a host country unable to check civil unrest, according to a State Department inspector general report released in May 2013. It was kept open and identified as a test bed for "expeditionary diplomacy," the report said.

"Because the U.S. Government believes it is important to engage directly with Iraq's Government and people, however, the mission requires an unprecedented level of security and life support," the report said, adding that risk assessments are made every day.

There are about 250 U.S. troops in Iraq, Pentagon officials said. That's down from 157,800 at the height of the U.S. military surge there in 2009. About half of those troops are Marines who protect diplomatic compounds.

As ISIS pushes south in Iraq, U.S. personnel at risk 06/12/14 [Last modified: Thursday, June 12, 2014 10:23pm]
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