MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE: President Barack Obama insisted Wednesday that US troops have no combat mission in Iraq, after his top general suggested some US advisors could join Iraqi forces to fight the Islamic State group.
“The American forces that have been deployed to Iraq do not and will not have a combat mission,” Obama told American troops at the headquarters of US Central Command in Florida.
Obama has repeatedly stressed that, despite ordering air strikes against IS in Syria and Iraq, he will not send US troops back to fight another land war in the region.
Indeed, he has based much of the rationale of his presidency on getting American forces out of foreign entanglements.
But his remarks here on Wednesday were lent added relevance by comments by General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Tuesday.
Dempsey said that it may at some point prove necessary to send US advisors into action with the Iraqi troops battling IS, in what he called “close-combat advising”.
But the White House insisted the idea of US troops in battle was a “purely hypothetical scenario.”
It was not immediately clear whether Obama´s comments in Florida precluded such an approach, but there appeared to be plenty of rhetorical space for Dempsey´s scenario to play out while allowing the president to insist that American troops have no dedicated combat mission.
The president did not repeat the frequent US characterization of the evolving mission in Iraq and Syria that there will be no US “boots on the ground” — a term usually seen to refer to combat troops.
Obama´s short remarks at the rain drenched MacDill air force base also included a defense of his own foreign policy — which Republicans argue is collapsing around him.
He noted that he had brought US combat troops home from Iraq, refocused the US war in Afghanistan and would “responsibly” end combat operations in the country before the end of the year.
He also recalled the US operation to kill Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his policy of taking out the “core” leadership of Al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
But. in a nod to the new conflict and to critics who argue Obama has turned his back on a chaotic world too soon, he said: “We have always known the end of the war in Afghanistan did not mean the end to challenges of threats to America.”
The president however stressed that in the new conflict to “degrade” and “destroy” America would not go it alone and talked up the international coalition he is building.
Obama said France and Britain were already flying with the United States over Iraq, added that Australia and Canada would send military advisers to the country.