When President Obama went on television to tell the nation our combat mission in Iraq was over, there were thousands of American troops who could honestly say the statement is not true.
The U.S. is, in fact, keeping all sorts of combatants in Iraq who, since the President’s speech, have been engaged in combat and will likely do so in the future.
This is partly because among the 50,000 U.S. service members still in Iraq, 3,000 of them are special operations forces (SOF). They continue to launch missions, with Iraqis, to raid safe havens and capture or kill insurgents.
“There was no reduction of SOF during the drawdown,” said Lt. Col. Terry Conder, a spokesman in Iraq. “The U.S. Special Operations mission has not changed. U.S. SOF advise, train, assist, and equip Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). U.S. SOF also support partnered counter-terrorism operations by, with, and through ISF. The U.S. does no unilateral operations.”
Here is how the U.S. command in Baghdad described a Sept. 6 mission by U.S. forces:
“BAGHDAD—Iraqi Security Forces arrested a suspected Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) leader and a criminal associate during a joint security operation conducted in West Mosul, Sept. 6.
“ISF and U.S. advisors searched a building for the suspected AQI leader, who allegedly is involved in the assassination of AQI members believed to be working with security forces and has ties to the organization’s extortion activities.”
That same day, the command told of another mission.
“BAGHDAD—Iraqi Security Forces arrested 14 suspected Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) criminal associates during a joint security operation conducted west of Mosul, Sept. 6.
“ISF and U.S. advisors searched several locations for a suspected AQI leader who allegedly is involved in the assassination of AQI members suspected of working for security forces and has ties to the organization’s extortion activities.”
In other words, U.S. forces, called “advisors,” went on two combat missions in one day, six days after Obama said such operations were over.
The next day, Brig Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan met with the press to tell them how things will work since Obama’s speech. Operation Iraqi Freedom is now Operation New Dawn.
He talked of “our three major tasks … which include advising, training, and assisting the Iraqi Security Forces, conducting partnered counterterrorism operations, and protecting our civilian workers—Provincial Reconstruction Teams, members of the United Nations, and nongovernmental organizations—as they continue to work with the Iraqi people and governments at the national and provincial level on developing capacity.”
Sounds a lot like combat—especially since the U.S. has not changed its rules of engagement for when troops may use deadly force.
He provided details of the night, shortly after the President’s speech, when a half dozen al-Qaeda suicide bombers stormed an Iraqi compound, penetrated the first perimeter and got in a fire fight.
“Our troops were there,” Buchanan said. “They were fired upon. They returned fire. And they performed appropriately throughout. Now, we also had an enabler on station, if you will, an unmanned aerial platform. And so we were able to take a capability that was already on the scene and provide the commanders on the scene, the Iraqi commanders on the scene, with better situational awareness. And again, that falls in line with what we’re doing when we advise, train, and assist.”
Sounds like combat.
On the conventional side, the last combat brigade may have left. But the U.S. has reconstituted combat units under other names, according to a source in Iraq. They are now considered task forces, there to protect civilians and accompany the Iraqis on missions when needed.
This source said brigade combat teams are now called Advise and Assist Brigades.
“We have the same personnel/equipment layout as before and are doing the same missions,” the source said. “The only difference is that they changed our name and that’s how he is getting away with saying that he has pulled all of the ‘combat’ troops out.”
There have been several incidents, including the one Buchanan described, of U.S. forces involved in combat since Obama’s combat-is-over speech.
On Sept. 6, an Iraqi soldier got into an argument with American troops, opened fire and killed two of them. He was killed in return fire. To date, these are the only two U.S. service members killed since the combat roll was announced as ending Aug. 31.
A day earlier, there was the al Qaeda suicide-bomber attack.
On Sunday, a U.S. military unit working with Iraqis was attacked, the New York Times reported. The command called in helicopter gunships which fired rockets at insurgent snipers.
The U.S. combat mission in Iraq continues.