CAMP LEJEUNE -

Military officials confirm hundreds of Camp Lejeune Marines are assisting with efforts to protect American citizens and other interests in Iraq, as cities in that country continue to fall to Taliban forces.

Marines in the 22nd MEU aboard USS Mesa Verde are currently in the Arabian Gulf; navy officials say they will head into the Persian Gulf later today.

Statement from Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby on the USS Mesa Verde:

"Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel ordered the amphibious transport dock ship USS Mesa Verde into the Arabian Gulf today. The ship has completed its transit through the Strait of Hormuz.

It's presence in the Gulf adds to that of other U.S. naval ships already there -- including the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush -- and provides the commander-in-chief additional options to protect American citizens and interests in Iraq, should he choose to use them.

USS Mesa Verde is capable of conducting a variety of quick reaction and crisis response operations. The ship carries a complement of MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft.

USS Mesa Verde is part of the USS Bataan Amphibious Ready Group, which departed Norfolk, Virginia, in February and is operating in the region on a routine deployment to support maritime security operations."