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Obama sending military advisers to Iraq

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Washington (CNN) -- President Barack Obama said on Thursday he's prepared to send up to 300 military advisers to Iraq to "assess how we can best train, advise and support Iraqi security forces."

Obama added that "American forces will not be returning to combat" but will help Iraqis "take the fight to terrorists who threaten the Iraqi people, the region and American interests as well."

[Original story moved at 1:40 p.m.]

Up to 100 U.S. special forces -- probably Green Berets, Army Rangers and Navy SEALs -- would go to Iraq to advise its military and collect intelligence under a Pentagon plan offered to President Barack Obama, according to several U.S. officials.

An announcement on the plan could come Thursday, though the officials made clear that Obama will decide whether to accept it and when to announce it.

The White House initially said Obama would make a statement on the situation in Iraq at 12:30 p.m. ET on Thursday, after meeting with his national security team. The timing of the statement was pushed back to 1:15 p.m.

Obama is under pressure to help the embattled Iraqi government stave off a lightning advance toward Baghdad by Sunni fighters of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

So far, his administration has ruled out combat troops on the ground in Iraq.

While the special forces in the Pentagon plan would be advisers, officials acknowledge the American special forces would likely face danger based on their location.

CNN military analyst Rick Francona called the distinction a loophole, declaring the Pentagon plan amounts to "boots on the ground."

"This is the first step. This is how you get drawn into these situations," said Francona, adding that the mission must be clearly defined to avoid greater U.S. military involvement after withdrawing forces in 2011 to end an eight-year war that ousted Saddam Hussein from power.

U.S. officials familiar with the plan, who spoke to CNN on condition of not being identified, said the deployment would begin with several small military teams and grow larger over time.

Teams would be placed around Iraq in the headquarters of Iraqi military brigades and tasked with gathering intelligence on ISIS forces, such as their location, numbers and weaponry, the officials said.

Such information could provide needed intelligence if Obama decides to proceed with airstrikes on ISIS fighters, as requested by Iraq.

 

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