NEW YORK (CNN) – U.S. contractors are being evacuated from a military air base in Balad, north of Baghdad, as insurgents continue to topple cities and advance towards the capital, according to a U.S. official. No military aircraft are involved in the evacuation, the official said.
The evacuation started early Thursday morning and is ongoing, a second U.S. official said. The contractors are returning to the highly secured U.S. embassy in Baghdad, the second official added.
The State Department is coordinating the removal of the contractors who were on the base to assist with the upcoming delivery of F-16s to the Iraqi military.
Iraqi troops desperately try to stop fighters advancing from Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, now under the control of the militant group the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.
In the city of Tikrit, captured Iraqi forces paraded. The terrorists next target may be Baghdad.
An alarmed White House cannot let the capital fall. U.S. combat boots on the ground have been ruled out but beyond that there is no agreement what to do.
“Military intervention could take an AQ that is now badly divided and reunite against the number one American infidels,” said Brian Jenkins of RAND.
“We will look at all options in this current near-term situation,” said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.
One defense official tells CNN the Pentagon is now “developing options and capabilities” to quash the fighters if President Obama orders action.
Eleven years after the US shock and awe invasion, the U.S. is again considering airstrikes by manned or remotely piloted aircraft.
The idea has huge challenges, pilots would be at risk and drones must have a precise target.
“While there are reports that the civilian population has fled these towns have all of the civilians left these towns? Are fighters intermingled with civilian populations? Are there concentrations of fighters or are they scattered across an urban areas,” said Jenkins.
For now, the official line, the U.S. will keep training Iraq forces and selling arms. $15 billion in U.S. weapons have already been delivered, including 300 Hellfire missiles, thousands of machine guns, grenades, flares, sniper rifles, M16s and M4 rifles. F1-6 aircraft and Apache helicopters are scheduled next for shipping.
With some U.S. supplied vehicles already in ISIS hands there are even now serious questions if the Pentagon ships more weapons can the Iraqis hold onto them.
One defense official telling CNN “We are not surprised, it was a question of when, not if, something like this would happen.”