No boots on ground in Syria, but US troops wearing boots & on ground are there ‒ State Dept
President Barack Obama confirmed plans to dramatically increase the American troop presence in Syria by deploying an additional 250 personnel, bringing the total to 300. He said the troops would help drive out Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL).
In 2013, Obama promised not to put any “American boots on the ground in Syria.”
The president repeated that claim in a September 2014 interview on ‘Meet the Press’.
“The notion that the United States should be putting boots on the ground, I think would be a profound mistake. And I want to be very clear and very explicit about that," Obama said on September 7, 2014.
Three days later, he reiterated that point in an address to the American people, promising that US troops would not fight in Syria.
On Monday, however, State Department spokesman John Kirby admitted that the US has boots on the ground in Syria… but that they are not there as boots on the ground.
Associated Press reporter Matt Lee pressed Kirby on the issue.
“For months and months and months, the mantra from the president and everyone else in the administration has been the no boots on the ground, and how…” Lee said.
“That is not true,” Kirby replied, cutting him off.
“What?” Lee exclaimed.
“It’s just not true, Matt. It’s just not true,” Kirby said. “I just flatly, absolutely disagree with you,” the spokesman said while pounding his fist on the podium.
RT’s Gayane Chichakyan then joined the fray.
“Within 24 hours, we have seen two headlines, one of them being, ‘President Obama rules out ground troops to Syria’ and he told the BBC…” she said. “And then, shortly after, ‘President Obama to deploy 250 more special forces troops to Syria.’”
“My question is, what is the difference between the troops that the president ruled out and the troops that he’s going to send to Syria?”
“You know, that’s actually an intelligent question. That’s a good question, and I appreciate that you asked it because it’s very relevant,” Kirby responded, explaining that the first set ‒ what most people think of as “boots on the ground” ‒ would be conventional ground troops who would participate in large combat. Instead, what the US is sending an additional 250 troops for advisory and assistance purposes, joining the 50 such special forces already there.
“There is a big difference between saying, ‘no boots on the ground’ ‒ we’ve all recognized since almost the outset that we’ve had US troops in Iraq, which are very much on the ground ‒ and the colloquial meaning of the term, which is what many people when they say ‘no boots on the ground’ are referring to,” Kirby said, “which is large-scale, intentionally combat ground troops engaged in combat operations that they themselves are conducting independently” of the country’s “indigenous forces.”
“That’s not happening, and that’s not gonna happen,” he said.
“You guys are getting way wrapped around the actual on the phrase ‘boots on the ground’,” Kirby added later, noting that, among other things American pilots are flying combat missions above Iraq and Syria.
Lee took up the mantle of questioning once again.
“Why didn’t the administration come out and say, ‘There will be no large-scale combat’ instead of saying ‘no boots on the ground’?” Lee asked. “These people, unless they’re not wearing boots, are boots on the ground!”
“Listen, on this point, I totally agree with you,” Kirby replied. “They are wearing boots, and they are on the ground. But that doesn’t mean that they are in large-scale ground combat operations!”
And around and around they went again.