In an attempt to keep its stories straight among reporters regarding the ongoing situation in Iraq, Associated Press standards editor Tom Kent reportedly circulated a this memo last week, informing reporters that contrary to the administration's claims -- which the president outlined in a primetime address early last week -- combat operations in Iraq are not over for U.S. troops:
Whatever the subject, we should be correct and consistent in our description of what the situation in Iraq is. This guidance summarizes the situation and suggests wording to use and avoid.
To begin with, combat in Iraq is not over, and we should not uncritically repeat suggestions that it is, even if they come from senior officials. The situation on the ground in Iraq is no different today than it has been for some months. Iraqi security forces are still fighting Sunni and al-Qaida insurgents. ... Our own reporting on the ground confirms that some [American] troops, especially some 4,500 special operations forces, continue to be directly engaged in military operations. These troops are accompanying Iraqi soldiers into battle with militant groups and may well fire and be fired on.
Since the AP memo surfaced, numerous reports have confirmed the news agency's skepticism. The Army Times has noted that a number of combat brigades are remaining engaged in combat, just classified under a different name:
Soldiers from the 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team of the 25th Infantry Division are deployed in Iraq as members of an Advise and Assist Brigade, the Army’s designation for brigades selected to conduct security force assistance.
So while the “last full U.S. combat brigade” have left Iraq, just under 50,000 soldiers from specially trained heavy, infantry and Stryker brigades will stay, as well as two combat aviation brigades.
On Sunday, the AP reported that U.S. forces had joined Iraqi forces in battling off heavily armed militants in the middle of Baghdad. The deadly scuffle marked U.S. troops' first exchange of fire since the president's Aug. 31 deadline for ending the American combat mission. Despite the president's declaration, American troops remaining in Iraq are still being drawn into the fire.
The Sunday exchange also beings attention to the kind of lapses in overall security which have left many Iraqis concerned about the drawdown of American forces. These remaining threats to Iraq and the American troops stationed there may explain why President Obama stopped short of declaring "mission accomplished." In addition, they may also retrospectively explain why Defense Secretary Robert Gates displayed especially cautious optimism about the drawdown, saying "This is not a time for premature victory parades or self-congratulations."