Carter: Overall Strategy Still Not Combat

Defense officials admit Army MSgt. Joshua Wheeler died last week in a combat operation, but they are being careful to separate the instances of combat US troops have seen in Iraq and Syria with a broader combat mission against ISIS. Defense Secretary Ash Carter, in a Wednesday Pentagon briefing, said “of course” Wheeler died in combat and “American combat troops are in combat every day.” However, the country’s overall mission in Operation Inherent Resolve is to enable local forces to be the main fighting force against ISIS, instead of thousands of US troops taking combat offensives and patrols to control territory in Iraq and Syria. “Our role is one of promoting that strategy, we can’t substitute for them,” Carter said, even though US special operators can work alongside allies. Pentagon officials have been careful in their language to describe raids, such as the one Wheeler was involved in on Oct. 22, in an effort to avoid violating President Obama’s July 2014 pledge to not have US troops in a combat role in Iraq and Syria. However, Carter has said there will be an increase of similar raids of US troops alongside partner forces against ISIS.