The New York Times reports: In formally asking Congress to authorize a three-year military campaign against the Islamic State, President Obama has carefully worded his request to soothe worried Democrats who do not want another big war. At the same time, he is assuring Republican hawks that the American military will do what it takes to defeat the Sunni militant group.
Hence the measure prohibits “enduring offensive ground combat operations.” So, no ground troops to fight the Islamic State in Iraq, Syria or anywhere else?
“The 10th Mountain Division could get through that loophole,” joked Roger Zakheim, a former general counsel for the House Armed Services Committee’s Republican leadership. But, then, so too could certain parts of the 82nd Airborne.
A ban against “enduring offensive ground combat operations” is simply a ban on a large army of occupation for an extended period of time, like what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan. That is essentially the yardstick that President Obama is using. But there is no prohibition against Special Operations forces conducting counterterrorism strikes inside Iraq or Syria.
Nor is there a prohibition against Joint Terminal Attack Controllers, or JTAC teams, directing combat aircraft and other offensive operations from positions close to the fighting. Or Marines going in to rescue hostages. Or clear out buildings. Or even retaking a town.
In fact, a ban on enduring offensive combat operations does not even bar the Army’s Third Infantry Division from rolling into Iraq on the president’s order, as long as they do not stay long.
Very few people who know Mr. Obama believe that he has any intention of sending an infantry division into Iraq, Syria or anywhere else that the Islamic State may decide to declare a caliphate; the president has said at every opportunity that he will not send in ground combat troops. He agreed only reluctantly to begin airstrikes against the Islamic State in August and has since then said repeatedly that the people of Iraq, Syria and surrounding countries should supply ground forces for action against the militants. [Continue reading…]