Fighting ISIS in Iraq: US seeks to prove it’s an ‘Alpha counter terrorist fighter’

© Thaier Al-Sudani
Washington is not having everything its own way amid Russia’s bombing campaign in Syria. The US’ contradictory anti-terrorist policy in Iraq, whether they call it combat or not, is an attempt to show they are still relevant in the region, experts believe.

A member of the US Special Operations force was killed on Wednesday night during a mission to rescue hostages held by Islamic State (IS, formerly known as ISIS/ISIL) in northern Iraq. Master Sergeant Joshua Wheeler, 39, became the first US soldier to die in the American fight against the terrorist organization.

On Friday, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said that he expected more raids targeting the IS strongholds. The statement followed repeated claims by the US that there will be no combat missions for American troops on the ground.

READ MORE: Expect more raids on ISIS by US troops, Pentagon chief warns after commando combat death

Max Abrahms, Assistant Professor at Northeastern University describes the US policy in Iraq as “very confusing.”

There’s a discrepancy between the official rhetoric coming from the Pentagon and the White House and the reality on the ground. What happened with that soldier being killed is clearly a case of combat: he died in combat. So for the Administration to then say that the US will not have a combat role [in Iraq] doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me,” he told RT.

One of the reasons for the US to seek a greater role on the ground, Abrahms said, is Russia’s increased support for the Syrian government in their fight against terrorists.

There’s additional pressure now on the US to prove that the US is an ‘Alpha counter-terrorist’. We’ve seen for over a year a whole lot of airstrikes by the international anti-ISIS coalition and it hasn’t achieved a whole lot. So I think that the US is incentivized to try something else - to provide more support for the Kurds, to provide additional support perhaps on the ground – to show that it’s a better counter-terrorist than the Russians,” says the analyst.

Karen Kwiatkowski, a retired US Air Force lieutenant colonel, commenting on the contradictory situation, said that she would not describe it as a U-turn from the Pentagon, adding that few people believed that the US was withdrawing troops from Iraq.

We left lots of guys there. We said they were training and advising – and perhaps many of them were. But these guys for the most part are combat military,” she said. “If you look back over the past six or seven months, we have done some more raids…for different purposes where our troops have been involved.

I think they are just parsing the term ‘combat’, because clearly it is a combat role,” Kwiatkowski said.

President Obama, however, knows that he is not legally authorized to carry out ground operations; he has pulled out troops from Iraq and repeatedly stated that American forces were not and would not be involved in a combat mission against IS in the country, she said. Also, the American people, polls show, are not interested in any combat missions anywhere in the Middle East.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter © Yuri Gripas

So once again, you have the American politicians – Ashton Carter being one of them – walking a fine line between what the American people will accept and what they will support and what we have actually going on in the Middle East, which is active war in many different theatres. Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria - it’s just a continuation of what we have been doing now for 15 years,” she told RT.

The US, Kwiatkowski says, “blew up the Middle East – there’s no doubt about that.

We created the situation that grew ISIS, we destroyed Iraq’s society, order and economy… As a result we have this chaos to deal with. But what we are finding is that the US is not in the driver’s seat as much, so we are looking to show at least some of our allies that we can be counted on,” she said. “It does seem to me that some of this is kind of a PR play vis-à-vis what the Russians are doing - apparently pretty successfully - in Syria.

Russia’s success in its anti-terrorist operation in Syria makes the US “look weak.”

It makes the US look like we are disorganized – which we are in the sense of having unified policy. We don’t have a policy or strategy,” she said. “

Whatever the US calls its actions in Iraq, “we are trying to show our relevancy in the Middle East”.

We certainly messed it up. Can we fix any of it? Probably not. But this may be a part of how Ashton Carter and President Obama think that they will show how we are still relevant in that area,” she said.


The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.