In a remarkable example of Orwellian language, Pentagon reps said this week that American soldiers are “in combat” in Iraq but do not have a “combat role”:
Briefing reporters hours after the raid took place, Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said that “U.S. forces are not in a combat role in Iraq.” He said a team of elite U.S. soldiers had provided transport and support for the Iraqi Kurdish commandos. But the Americans were not intending to take part in the raid itself, he said. That changed when a firefight erupted and Wheeler jumped in to help. Later that day, Cook said that Wheeler’s death was the first combat casualty there since 2011. […]
But on Wednesday, Col. Steve Warren, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, described the mission in blunt terms. “We’re in combat,” he said, speaking via video feed to reporters at the Pentagon. “That’s why we all carry guns. That’s why we all get combat patches when we leave here. That’s why we all receive imminent danger pay. So, of course it’s combat.”
Meanwhile, the White House continues to repudiate the word “combat” in any context pertaining to Iraq. Here’s an excerpt from Press Secretary Josh Earnest’s delicate dance to avoid that label this past Monday (emphasis added):
REPORTER: [I]t’s hard to see that operation as an advise — following in the advise category when they landed, they were trying to rescue people, the likelihood of returned gunfire was very high, and they engaged. That’s combat in every sense of the word. And that doesn’t fall neatly into the train-advise-and-assist — I understand that — but that doesn’t make it any less perilous or any less of a combat situation.
MR. EARNEST: And I think that the President, since the very first speech that he gave to the country when laying out this strategy, acknowledged the significant risk that our men and women in uniform would incur by being deployed to Iraq. And there are a number of missions that could be described similarly — so there was the mission that U.S. military personnel undertook earlier this year to take Abu Sayyaf, noted ISIL leader, off the battlefield and to exploit significant intelligence assets there. There was a raid that the President ordered last year inside of Syria where the United States put boots on the ground inside of Syria to try to rescue American hostages that were being held by ISIL. That was a dangerous situation and certainly looked a lot like combat. And I think the point is that, yes, our military personnel are going to encounter risk when they’re in Iraq, even in the course of carrying out a train-advise-and-assist mission.
You see, Earnest suggests, something may look in every way like combat, but it’s not actually combat unless the president says it is—and the president says American operations in Iraq are a train-advise-and-assist mission.
Of course, that the Obama administration is desperately interested in not admitting to combat operations makes sense. After all, Obama repeatedly and unequivocally stated last year that, “We will not be sending U.S. troops back into combat in Iraq.” (Ending the war in Iraq, however much that definitely hasn’t happened, seems to be something the president wants in his legacy.)
So there you have it, folks: The president promised the troops wouldn’t be in combat in Iraq again, so they’re not in combat, even if it looks a lot like combat, except they are in combat, but it’s not a combat role!