Obama: US troops will have no combat mission in Iraq

AFP , Wednesday 17 Sep 2014

While Barack Obama reemphasised Wednesday that US troops would not be sent into battle against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, US military personnel may still be on the front lines as advisors

US President Barack Obama (Photo:Reuters)

US President Barack Obama insisted Wednesday that US troops will have no combat mission in Iraq, after his top general suggested some US advisors could join Iraqi forces to fight the Islamic State (IS) group.

"The American forces that have been deployed to Iraq do not and will not have a combat mission," Obama told American troops at the headquarters of US Central Command in Florida.

Obama has repeatedly underlined that despite ordering air strikes against IS in Syria and Iraq, he will not send US troops back to fight another land war in the region.

Obama has based much of his presidency on the rationale of getting American forces out of foreign entanglements.

His remarks Wednesday were lent added relevance by comments by General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Tuesday.

Dempsey said that it may at some point prove necessary to send US advisors into action with Iraqi troops battling IS, in what he called "close-combat advising."

The White House insisted that the idea of US troops in battle was a "purely hypothetical scenario."

It was not immediately clear whether Obama's comments in Florida precluded the presence of any US military personnel in battlefield operations, but there appeared to be plenty rhetorical space for Dempsey's scenario to play out while allowing the president to insist that American troops have no dedicated combat mission.

The president did not repeat the standard US characterisation of the evolving mission in Iraq and Syria — that there will be no US "boots on the ground," a term usually seen to refer to combat troops.

Obama's short remarks at the rain drenched MacDill Airforce Base also included a defence of his own foreign policy, which Republicans argue is collapsing around him.

He noted that he had brought US combat troops home from Iraq, refocused the US war in Afghanistan, and would "responsibly" end combat operations in the country before the end of the year.

He also recalled the US operation to kill Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden and his policy of taking out the "core" leadership of Al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

But, in a nod to the new conflict and to critics who argue Obama has turned his back on a chaotic world too soon, he said: "We have always known the end of the war in Afghanistan did not mean the end to challenges of threats to America."

Obama, however, stressed that in the new conflict to "degrade and destroy" IS, America would not go it alone, talking up the international coalition he is building.

Obama said France and Britain were already flying with the United States over Iraq, adding that Australia and Canada would send military advisors to the country.

Obama also noted Saudi Arabia's willingness to host a US mission to train moderate Syrian rebels on its soil, and said German paratroopers were also going to take part in a training mission, the details of which he did not specify.

Obama made his speech after meeting General Lloyd Austin, who runs US Central Command, responsible for an area that stretches across the troubled belt of South and Central Asia and the Middle East.

He also sat down in closed door talks with military representatives of 40 nations that are expected to take part in the anti-IS mission.

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