On Tuesday, US special forces accompanying Afghan troops engaged in a protracted firefight with Taliban forces in the Helmand Province. One of the soldiers was killed and two others wounded, and a helicopter was virtually destroyed.
Don’t call it combat though. Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook, pressed on the matter, appeared increasingly desperate to avoid the “c-word” when talking about Afghanistan, labeling the mission a “train, advise and assist” operation, and shrugged off the fact it was a gunbattle by saying Afghanistan “is a dangerous place.”
The troops were deployed in response to Taliban gains in Helmand, with an explicit eye toward fighting them off. US warplanes have been increasing their airstrikes against Helmand all the while, so why the pretense of a “non-combat” situation?
Despite being 14+ years into the Afghanistan occupation, Pentagon officials are increasingly loathe to present anything the US is doing as combat, even when it involves shooting people and blowing stuff up. The narrative in Afghanistan in particular is one of the US taking a “support” role, and the admission that US troops have to get into combat to keep the Taliban from seizing important parts of the country undercuts the pretense of progress.
Yet this isn’t just an Afghanistan matter. The Pentagon has similarly struggled with “combat” operations in Iraq, labeling gunbattles against ISIS there as “training” operations too.