The Pentagon has deployed a task force of special operations troops that includes Army Rangers to the Middle East, a Defense official said, adding to the buildup in the region following the U.S. killing of Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani.
The move comes alongside the deployment of a brigade of 4,000 paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division to Kuwait as President Donald Trump threatens more military strikes and as U.S. bases in the Middle East go on high alert.
The centerpiece of the special operations deployment is a company from the 75th Ranger Regiment, said the official, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak about the move. The numbers of troops involved are small in comparison to the 82nd Airborne deployment — a Ranger company comprises 150 to 200 soldiers — but adds a key offensive capability to the U.S. troop presence in the region.
The official did not say where the troops were deploying.
Rangers are the Army’s elite light infantry force, specializing in raids to kill or capture enemy leaders. At the height of the Iraq War, the Rangers led a secretive unit responsible for hunting Iranian operatives and the leaders of Iranian-backed Iraqi Shiite militias in the country, known as Task Force 17.
One of those militias, Kataib Hezbollah, attacked the U.S. Embassy on Tuesday as part of an escalation that began with intensifying rocket attacks on U.S. bases in Iraq. After a rocket attack killed a U.S. contractor late last month, the Pentagon launched airstrikes against five Kataib Hezbollah bases in Iraq and Syria last weekend, prompting the embassy assault.
On Thursday night, U.S. aircraft killed both Soleimani and Kataib Hezbollah’s founder, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, in a strike near Baghdad International Airport.
On Saturday, the military announced that rocket attacks were carried out near bases that house U.S. troops in Baghdad and Balad, and that no U.S. troops were injured.