President Obama struggled to keep his “no boots on the ground” talking point alive on Monday, saying in an interview with NBC News that U.S. special forces about to be deployed in Syria do not count, because they are not supposed to fight front-line combat operations against ISIS, and smaller units of special operations troops have been working in Syria for some time.
“Keep in mind that we have run special ops already and really this is just an extension of what we are continuing to do,” said the president, in what Reuters describes as his first public comment on the deployment since the White House announced it on Friday.
“We are not putting U.S. troops on the front lines fighting firefights with ISIL,” President Obama explained. “I have been consistent throughout that we are not going to be fighting like we did in Iraq with battalions and occupations. That doesn’t solve the problem.”
This is a classic example of goalpost-moving: from “I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria” to it won’t be battalions conducting an occupation, and they aren’t supposed to be “on the front lines fighting firefights.”
Reuters notes that over the past year, the president modulated his talking point to say he would not dispatch combat troops in Iraq, but special forces operators most certainly qualify as combat troops. The role envisioned for these units makes it very possible they’ll be drawn into action anyway, as was the case with the U.S. special forces team sent to advise Iraqi and Kurdish forces in the raid on an ISIS prison in Iraq two weeks ago.