Update: Military officials have since reported that “less than 20” troops were sent to the mountain and that they have all returned to Irbil. Officials are still talking up a “rescue” operation which includes the use of US combat troops, but are insisting this wouldn’t count as a violation of the promise not to send combat troops.
Thursday night, President Obama announced the commencement of an air war in Iraq, while assuring Americans that he was ruling out any combat troops. Today, less than a week later, those troops have begun arriving at Mount Sinjar.
Over 100 Marines and Special Forces were deployed to the mountain today as part of a nascent plan to “organize an escape route” for Yazidis trapped on the mountaintop. A handful of British soldiers joined them.
That’s not the end of the deployment, by any account, and officials are saying President Obama is considering an expansion of the “ground operation” to create an evacuation corridor from the mountain to Kurdistan, with more troops likely to be involved.
When asked about President Obama’s ever-shifting promises, first in June not to send any troops on the ground, then last week again ruling out “combat” operations, administration officials shrugged, and suggested that sending US combat troops directly into combat in Iraq but under the pretext of the mountain rescue was not the same as “re-entering a combat role in Iraq.”
The short answer, as ever, is that the administration is going to escalate however it wants, and then revise its past assurances to fit the current situation.