It is becoming increasingly clear that almost no one in the press believes that the nearly 1,700 American service men and women currently in Iraq (a number even The New York Times believes will balloon in short order) will not encounter armed resistance.
On Thursday, when White House Press Sec. Josh Earnest was asked how Americans who are asked to serve in what Gen. Martin Dempsey called a “combat advisory role” alongside indigenous forces would react if they were fired upon, Earnest replied with the obvious (via The Washington Times):
President Obama expects U.S. troops to return fire if Islamic State militants shoot at them, the White House said Thursday, as new questions surfaced about the president’s direct role in dictating the rules of engagement in the war in Iraq and Syria.
“Iraq is a very dangerous place, and U.S. military personnel will have the equipment to defend themselves,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said. “Certainly the commander in chief would expect that the American troops do what is necessary to defend themselves.”
So, it’s not “combat,” per se. If, however, U.S. troops are sent to the front – which they likely will be – and are shot at, they will return fire with the aim of neutralizing the threat. Just don’t call that a combat mission in Iraq. That would run afoul of the White House’s political commitment to the narrative that Barack Obama ended the Iraq War.
These word games, of course, only apply to uniformed American service personnel. Reports indicate that the Pentagon and the CIA are relying on covert operators to execute missions that U.S. troops cannot carry out (via Time Magazine):
But U.S. special operators are valuable in this kind of fight. Ford Sypher deployed twice to Iraq and three times to Afghanistan as a team leader with the Army’s storied 75th Ranger Regiment between 2006 and 2010. He thinks he saw U.S. troops in action on the ground in northern Iraqi town of Zumar earlier this month:
Multiple armored Toyotas swept down the mountain, passing within feet of us. The Toyotas were packed with what appeared to be bearded Western Special Operations Forces. I watched the trucks pass and saw for myself the crews inside them. They didn’t wear any identifying insignia but they were visibly Western and appeared to match all the visual characteristics of American special operations soldiers. Contacts in the Kurdish intelligence service and Peshmerga leadership confirmed what we saw. `Yes,’ one commander replied to our questions. `German and American forces are on the ground here. They are helping to support us in the attack.’
…Sypher wrote in a Daily Beast dispatch. But the Pentagon told Sypher that “there are no U.S. troops on the ground in or around Zumar.” The Pentagon, and the Obama Administration, would be lying to the nation if those were U.S. troops Sypher witnessed. That’s seems a political gamble not worth taking.
The notion that American troops are not and never will see combat in Iraq in the war against ISIS appears to depend on your ability to suspend disbelief. Of course, the level of commitment one still has to the idealized Obama presidency might lead one to fool themselves rather convincingly. For the rest of the “reality-based community,” as the left once called itself, America’s third Iraq War has been engaged.
UPDATE: The Blaze host Amy Holmes identified the discrepancy in the White House’s comments regarding the nature of those troops conducting ground operations.
— Amy Holmes (@TheBlazeHotList) September 18, 2014
Many thanks to her for researching this issue and alerting me to her astute conclusion.