As More American Boots Hit the Ground in Syria, U.S. Parses “Boots” and “Ground”

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As More American Boots Hit the Ground in Syria, U.S. Parses “Boots” and “Ground”

(Photo: John Moore/Getty Images)

After President Obama announced on Monday that he would deploy 250 additional special operations troops to Syria, State Department spokesperson John Kirby tried to deny that Obama had ever promised not to send “boots on the ground” there.

“There was never this ‘no boots on the ground,’” said Kirby. “I don’t know where this keeps coming from.”

The problem for Kirby was that Obama has repeated the promise at least 16 times since 2013:

For instance, on August 30, 2013, Obama said: “We’re not considering any boots-on-the-ground approach.”

On September 10, 2013, he said: “Many of you have asked, won’t this put us on a slippery slope to another war? One man wrote to me that we are ‘still recovering from our involvement in Iraq.’ A veteran put it more bluntly: ‘This nation is sick and tired of war.’ My answer is simple: I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria.”

On September 7, 2014, he said: “In Syria, the boots on the ground have to be Syrian.”

After reporters pointed out the mistake, Kirby tried to walk back his claim by defining the phrase “boots on the ground” to exclude special forces.

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“When we talk about boots on the ground, in the context that you have heard people in the administration speak to, we are talking about conventional, large-scale ground troops,” said Kirby. “I’m not disputing the fact that we have troops on the ground, and they’re wearing boots.”

The new deployment will result in a six-fold increase to the 50 U.S. special forces troops already in Syria. There are also 4,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. The White House has insisted that its forces “do not have a combat mission,” and are deployed in an “advise and assist” capacity only, helping to train local militias that engage ISIS directly.

There is, as Kirby indicated, a distinction between a large-scale ground invasion and, say, a small group of advisers hanging back from the front. But the line between “combat” and “assist” missions is not always so clear.

Read the full article at The Intercept.

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