More than 3,000 U.S. military personnel have secretly returned to Iraq via Kuwait and 17,000 more are on their way in response to the civil war in Syria that has spilled over into northern Iraq, according to a report published Monday by Iran's Press TV.
The news follows by four days a report from the Russian news service RT that the aircraft carrier USS Eisenhower has joined the USS Iwo Jima off the coast of Syria. Both President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week issued stern warnings to Syria about unspecified but serious "consequences" that would follow if government forces in Syria were to use chemical weapons against insurgents fighting to overthrow the government led by President Bashar al-Assad. The warnings came after reports that intelligence sources have reported signs of activity where the Assad regime is believed to have chemical weapons stored. At the same time, U.S. officials have expressed concern over the possibility that Jihadist elements among the rebel forces might capture those same weapons. Israel is worried — along with Western nations — that the militant Islamic group Hezbollah, an ally of Iran and enemy of Israel, might be among the rebels likely to get hold of and use chemical weapons.
The United States and other nations wanting to help the Syrian rebels in their efforts to topple the Assad regime are also concerned about Nusra Front, the one Syrian rebel group with the explicit "stamp of approval from al Qaeda," according to a New York Times report that identified the group as "a direct offshoot of Al Qaeda in Iraq." A veteran of the al-Qaeda force in Iraq, who said he has led the Nusra Front's efforts in Syria, is quoted in the Times as saying: "This is just a simple way of returning the favor to our Syrian brothers that fought with us on the lands of Iraq."
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Photo of U.S. and Iraqi soldiers patrolling in Iraq, 2009