State Department Spokesperson John Kirby stated that “there’s a combat role here for US forces” who are launching airstrikes, ground forces will “absolutely” “be exposed potentially to combat operations,” and Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler “died in an act of combat” on Thursday’s “Your World with Neil Cavuto” on the Fox News Channel.
Kirby said, “I think we’re worrying too much about parsing on words here. I mean, what we’ve said all along, and even in my prior capacity speaking for the Pentagon, and obviously American troops, some, were involved in combat operations in Iraq and Syria, when you are dropping bombs on an enemy, that’s an act of combat. what we’ve always said, and what remains true today is that there’s no mission of combat operations on the ground for troops in Iraq or in Syria. Their job on the ground is largely training and advising and assisting. Now, in the conduct of that particular mission set, are they going to be exposed potentially to combat operations and are they going to find themselves at risk? Absolutely. And what we’ve said all along, and even when i was being interviewed by you many, many months ago, we talked about the fact the troops have the right, they have the responsibility to defend themselves, and if need be, to defend our allies and partners on the ground when they have to do that, and that’s what happened in this case. We’re not — it’s not about whether it is or isn’t combat. Clearly Sergeant Wheeler died in an act of combat and we’re all — we all share our pride in him and our thoughts and condolences for the family. What hasn’t changed is the central mission itself, which is, to enable, to partner with, and to support the capabilities on the ground of indigenous forces. In Iraq, it’s the Iraqi Security Forces, in Syria it’s various moderate opposition groups and counter-ISIL fighters.”
He added, “I mean, clearly there’s a combat role here for US forces as they continue to launch, now more than 7,000 airstrikes against ISIL in both Iraq and Syria. That is no kidding an act of combat, and we recognize that. What we’re talking about here, though, and what we’ve learned over now 14 years of counter-insurgency warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan is, that the best antidote to extremism on the ground is strong, capable, indigenous forces that can sustain a defeat, over time for terrorists that are using your territory for safe havens.”
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