Signaling further escalation of U.S. military force in Iraq, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced Monday that 217 additional troops would be deployed to Iraq and that the U.S. will also be supplying Apache helicopters and millions in aid to Kurdish Peshmerga forces in an effort to fight ISIS.
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“The 217 additional forces will be a mixture of advisers, and troops providing protection for other forces, aviation support and fire support,” reports the Hill, citing Pentagon sources. “They will increase the authorized troop level in Iraq from 3,870 to 4,087.”
During the announcement, no mention was made of President Obama’s repeated vows that the U.S. would never have “boots on the ground” in a combat operation in Iraq again.
The news is unsurprising to many, particularly those critics who have noted the steady mission creep of U.S. forces in Iraq in the four and half years since the Iraq War was declared officially over in December 2011.
But the announcement marks a milestone: it is the first time that officials have not attempted to argue that an escalation of force in Iraq does not break President Obama’s insistent promises that ground troops would not be deployed for a combat operation in Iraq. President Obama defended his actions with this claim when he was criticized for starting the current escalation of U.S. military force in Iraq with a deployment of special forces in 2014.
Indeed, when U.S. stepped up its troop presence in Iraq last month, government officials attempted to excuse the increase by making the somewhat convoluted argument that the deployed U.S. marines were being used only for “security,” and thus didn’t count as “boots on the ground.”
During Monday’s announcement, however, officials did not attempt to make a similar defense of the escalation of force.
In fact, officials claimed the troops were needed on the front lines—on the ground, in a combat capacity—in order to help Iraqi and Kurdish forces defeat ISIS, with an eye toward retaking Mosul from the so-called Islamic State.
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“Until now, U.S. advisers have worked with the Iraqis at the headquarters level, well back from the front lines,” the AP notes.
The announcement directly contradicts Secretary of State John Kerry’s statements made a mere ten days ago, when he told reporters that “whatever troops we have in Iraq, whatever troops are committed to this effort, are at the request of the government of Iraq. And at this point in time, I’m not aware that there’s some additional request,” as the Hill reported.
The latest deployment also violates promises the U.S. made to the government of Iraq regarding its military presence in the country.
“The U.S. deal with Iraq capped the number of U.S. ground troops in the nation at 3,870 troops,” writes Jason Ditz at Antiwar.com, “though the Pentagon has repeatedly conceded that the number of troops in the country at any given time is closer to 5,000, with the rest classified as ‘temporary’ and not subject to the cap.”
“Even though the Iraqi government has mostly looked the other way at the US skirting their deal, large new deployments would virtually oblige Abadi to say something,” Ditz argues, “as the premier is already facing pressure from parliament for allowing so many ground troops in.”
Critics took to social media to condemn the continued escalation of U.S. forces in Iraq: