Last night, President Obama's national address was supposed to convince us that he was bringing an end to combat operations in Iraq ("The American combat mission in Iraq has ended"). For a second, I almost believed him. But then I reread his statement this morning and there's one part that stops me:
"Going forward, a transitional force of U.S. troops will remain in Iraq with a different mission: advising and assisting Iraq’s Security Forces, supporting Iraqi troops in targeted counterterrorism missions, and protecting our civilians." [Emphasis mine.]
Fred Kaplan over at Slate thinks this is a fine line:
They—for now, 50,000 [U.S] troops—will still be [in Iraq] for another 16 months, advising, training, and equipping the Iraqi forces. And U.S. commandos will continue to mount counterterrorism operations (very nearly crossing the gray line between "support" and "combat").
The Associated Press's fact check of the president's end-to-combat claim confirms mine (and Kaplan's) suspicions:
OBAMA: "Tonight, I am announcing that the American combat mission in Iraq has ended."
THE FACTS: Peril remains for the tens of thousands of U.S. troops still in Iraq, who are likely if not certain to engage violent foes. Counterterrorism is chief among their continuing missions, pitting them against a lethal enemy. Several thousand special operations forces, including Army Green Berets and Navy SEALs, will continue to hunt and attempt to kill al-Qaida and other terrorist fighters — working closely with Iraqi forces. Obama said, "Of course, violence will not end with our combat mission," while stopping short of a full accounting of the hazards ahead for U.S. troops.
This morning, I received an e-mail from Blaze reader Kevin about the president's speech. Kevin served in the Army from 2005-2010 and completed two tours in Iraq. I asked him about the difference between combat missions and counterterrorism missions. Here is his response:
Well if you declare an end to combat operations in Iraq, then qualify it with that statement, you might as well have declared an end of combat ops back in the summer of 2009. ... My point is this: based on that statement, the president pretty much defined the SOP [standard operating procedure] for what the US presence in Iraq has been operating under already.
He equated the president's non-combat designation to orders in 2009 that U.S. troops must pull out of Iraqi cities and "not initiate any missions into any Iraqi cities, towns, [or] villages without Iraqi forces being notified prior as well as being present themselves." He writes:
Don't get me wrong, we still ran ops. Say we meet the Iraqi forces in a town 20 miles from our base. Well if we stopped for a few checkpoint evaluations or chats with other forces in sector, or "dropped in on" other Iraqi Army forces that weren't exactly expecting us, along the way...so be it. Thinking that we didn't actively take steps to prevent or interdict the bad guys from trying to hurt us would just be naive.
I know what the president would have us believe: combat operations and counterterrorism missions are very different. But Kevin, who's been in Iraq, doesn't think they're that different. I tend to side with the guy who's not trying to fulfill a campaign promise.