After repeatedly ruling out US ground troops carrying out any combat operations in Iraq, or ground troops even going to Syria, last week’s raid, which led to the death of a US soldier in Iraq, appeared to end this talk, but actually led to several days of officials parsing the word “combat.”
While this arguing over the meaning of combat lasted a lot longer than was reasonable, they appear to have ditched the idea with Defense Secretary Ash Carter today announcing that US ground troops “won’t hold back” from launching “direction action on the ground” in either Iraq or Syria, aiming to pressure ISIS.
As if to remove any doubt that this was a formal change, Carter declared to the Senate “this is combat and things are complicated” and that the ground troops will be “in harm’s way, no question about it.” So far there are no details on any additional deployments of ground troops for this new ground war.
The lack of detail so far is actually surprising, despite the administration’s repeated attempts to keep its policy shift announcements limited to soundbites. There aren’t even US ground troops in Syria yet, so it isn’t clear where they’re going to be coming from for that war, and Carter’s promises to support US allies in Syria, which likely means the Kurdish YPG, is certain to anger Turkey, meaning the Erdogan government won’t be letting the US use Turkish soil for staging such operations.