WASHINGTON D.C. — The U.S. military on Wednesday said U.S. troops are “absolutely” in combat against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, a departure from rhetoric used under the Obama administration.
“Absolutely. When someone is shooting at you, that is combat, yes,” Air Force Col. John Dorrian, the spokesman for the military coalition fighting ISIS, told reporters at a briefing.
Dorrian said U.S. troops supporting Iraqi forces in the fight for Mosul, ISIS’s stronghold in Iraq, have come under fire at different times and have returned fire. He said he did not know precisely how many times or when.
He did not specify whether there have been any U.S. troops wounded in the fighting, out of concern that it would give ISIS the ability to better assess its effectiveness on the battlefield.
QUESTION: So they’ve been in combat operations, although that was not the intent? They have been in combat now?
DORRIAN: Barb, absolutely. Yes, I mean, that’s — when someone is shooting at you, that is combat. Yes, that has happened.
Defense officials under the Obama administration typically refrained from acknowledging that U.S. troops were in combat in either Iraq or Syria, preferring to say troops were in a “combat situation” or a “dangerous place.”
On May 3, then-White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said U.S. troops in Iraq were in doing “dangerous work” but did not have a combat mission in Iraq, after a Navy SEAL was killed in a firefight.
This was an individual who was not in a combat mission, but he was in a dangerous place. And his position came under attack. He was armed, trained, and prepared to defend himself. Unfortunately, he was killed. And he was killed in combat. But that was not part of his mission. His mission was specifically to offer advice and assistance to those Iraqi forces that were fighting for their own country.
After a firefight in Afghanistan left a Green Beret killed, then-Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said on January 7, 2016, that troops there were in a “combat situation.”
The Obama administration ended the U.S. combat mission in Iraq in 2010 and in Afghanistan in 2014.
Today, there are more than 5,000 U.S. troops are in Iraq, about 300 in Syria, and more than 8,000 in Afghanistan.