The Pentagon has added special operations troops, including U.S. Army Rangers, to its buildup of troops in the Middle East after the U.S. strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
A company from the 75th Ranger Regiment, consisting of 150 to 200 soldiers, will comprise the backbone to the special operations task force being deployed, according to Politico. The addition of these troops may add new offensive capabilities and expertise to the U.S. forces already in Iraq or recently deployed to the region amid recent tensions with Iran.
The Rangers are the U.S. Army’s elite airborne light infantry force and specialize in raids to take out high-value enemy targets. Prior to the end of the Iraq war, the Rangers led Task Force 17, whose mission included tracking down leaders of pro-Iranian Shiite militias in Iraq.
One of those same Iranian-backed militia groups, the Kata’ib Hezbollah group, has been implicated in renewed activity in Iraq in recent weeks, including rocket attacks in December that killed one U.S. citizen and wounded others.
Pro-Iranian militias were subsequently implicated in promoting last week’s destructive demonstrations at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
Gen. Soleimani was with Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the leader of one pro-Iranian Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) Iraqi militia, when he was killed by a U.S. airstrike.
It is not yet known where the new special operations task force will be deployed.
The announcement of the new deployment of Rangers follows other recent troop deployments to the region.
In the immediate response to the Baghdad embassy demonstrations, some 100 U.S. Marines deployed to bolster the embassy defenses.
Around 750 of the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division Immediate Response Force (IRF) also deployed to the region in response to the embassy attack, while the remainder of the 4,000 strong IRF were placed on standby. Those remaining IRF members deployed soon after as tensions continued to rise, following Soleimani’s death.
Tensions have continued to rise over the weekend as Iranian leaders vowed “severe revenge” against the U.S. and an Iranian general suggested U.S. warships are among the list of 35 targets considered for retaliatory strikes.
President Donald Trump also warned Iran that the U.S. is prepared to take out 52 more targets “VERY FAST AND VERY HARD” if Iran chooses to go forward with its retaliation.