“Americans are flying combat missions, thousands of combat missions, over Syria and Iraqi territory. There are Americans involved in training and advising Iraqi security forces around the country. We do not have combat formations there the way we had once upon a time in Iraq, or the way we have had in years past in Afghanistan,” Carter said.

Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook had been blunter on Thursday: “Our mission in Iraq is the train, advise and assist mission. This was a unique circumstance. … This was a support mission in which they were providing support to the Kurdistan Regional Government. U.S. forces are not in an active combat mission in Iraq.”

But before Carter left the podium on Friday, he offered this explanation for why he couldn’t reveal more details of Wheeler’s actions: “This is combat. Things are complicated.”

Indeed.