The Pentagon announced Tuesday night it has ordered a full battalion from the 82nd Airborne Division to the Middle East in response to Iranian-backed Shiite militiamen storming the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad on Tuesday.
"At the direction of the Commander in Chief, I have authorized the deployment of an infantry battalion from the Immediate Response Force (IRF) of the 82nd Airborne Division to the U.S. Central Command area of operations in response to recent events in Iraq," Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said in a statement released by the Pentagon.
"Approximately 750 soldiers will deploy to the region immediately, and additional forces from the IRF are prepared to deploy over the next several days."
Fox News reported earlier that at least 500 paratroopers from the 82nd were en route to Kuwait following the embassy assault; some 4,000 troops in total are on alert ahead of possible deployment orders, the outlet reported.
The Pentagon announcement comes after large groups of protesters, many in uniform, pushed into the embassy compound in Baghdad early this morning. Smoke from the tear gas rose in the area as protesters hanged a poster on the wall: "America is an aggressor."
The rising tensions follow U.S. airstrikes Sunday on five Iranian-backed militia positions in Iraq and Syria. The strikes came in response to a series of rocket attacks on U.S. bases in Iraq; one of those attacks killed a U.S. contractor and wounded four American troops.
More than 100 U.S. Marines arrived at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad earlier Tuesday to help reinforce security. The Marines are assigned to Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response-Central Command, a ground-based unit spread across the Middle East, U.S. officials confirmed to Military.com.
The California-based 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, is the infantry unit currently assigned to the crisis response task force. The unit is one of several the Marine Corps created following the deadly 2012 attack on a U.S. post in Benghazi, Libya.
The battalion of paratroopers from the 82nd is part of the Fort Bragg, North Carolina-based rapid-deployment unit's ready brigade. The 82nd Airborne keeps one battalion of the ready brigade on alert to deploy within 18 hours after notification. The second battalion can deploy in 36 hours and the third in 54 hours.
There are roughly 5,000 U.S. troops currently deployed to Iraq as part of a larger force of about 60,000 U.S. troops deployed to the region. Roughly 14,000 troops have been added since May as the threat from Iran increased, the Associated Press reported.
There were no immediate reports of injuries to any U.S. personnel. There also were no evacuations of U.S. personnel and no reports of demonstrations or incidents at other bases throughout Iraq.
The deployment of additional ground forces 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," Esper said in the statement.
"The United States will protect our people and interests anywhere they are found around the world," Esper said.
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
-- Military.com's Gina Harkins contributed to this report.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.