President Barack Obama has insisted that the U.S. military will not head back to combat in Iraq, but the Pentagon just reluctantly admitted that American troops are definitely in combat.
While the mission was supposed to be restricted to training Iraqi forces to combat the Islamic State, American forces were sucked in to the fight, as well, CNN reports, as evidenced by the recent death of a Delta commando.
“We’re in combat,” Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters Wednesday. “I mean, of course, this is a combat zone. There’s a war going on in Iraq, if folks haven’t noticed. And we’re here and it’s all around us.”
Obama promised last June that U.S. troops will not see direct action in Iraq, but since the rise of ISIS, there are now 3,500 servicemembers in Iraq — and they are most certainly engaged in activities beyond training and advising. The Obama administration has tried to avoid characterizing their presence in combat terms, but the Pentagon seems much more willing to be forthright.
Compare the two. While White House spokesman Josh Earnest said earlier this week that troops were in the region to “train, advise, and assist,” Pentagon spokesman Warren said, “I thought I made that pretty clear. That is why we all carry guns. That’s why we all get combat patches when we leave here, that’s why we all receive an immediate danger badge. So, of course we’re in combat.”
That combat seemed especially evidence in the wake of Master Sgt. Joshua L. Wheeler’s death. He was killed in a raid to free hostages from an ISIS-run prison. Still, there are conflicting messages coming from the Pentagon. Press Secretary Peter Cook said that troops are not “in an active combat mission in Iraq.”
Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Tuesday that the U.S. will begin initiating combat operations against ISIS, in effect formalizing what special operations forces have already been engaging in for months. Northern Iraq, where the Kurds control the territory, is an epicenter of activity for special operations forces. Details regarding those forces is a closely guarded secret.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter also said late Wednesday that combat is an everyday occurrence in Iraq, but that overall the mission is directed to training and supporting Iraqi forces. Wheeler’s death doesn’t change the mission.