‘No Ground Troops’ in U.S. Fight Against ISIS Might Not Actually Mean No Ground Troops

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Photo: Reuters/Corbis

In announcing an expanded offensive against Islamic State militants, President Obama has been firm and direct: “The notion that the United States should be putting boots on the ground, I think would be a profound mistake,” he’s said. “And I want to be very clear and very explicit about that.”

The top U.S. general, not so much. “My view at this point is that this coalition is the appropriate way forward. I believe that will prove true,” General Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress on Tuesday. “But if it fails to be true, and if there are threats to the United States, then I, of course, would go back to the president and make a recommendation that may include the use of U.S. military ground forces.”

While Obama has insisted this will not turn into another Iraq War (“the boots on the ground have to be Iraqi … and in Syria, the boots on the ground have to be Syrian”), Dempsey is not willing to rule anything out. “His stated policy is that we will not have U.S. forces in ground combat,” the general said of the president today. “He has told me as well to come back to him on a case-by-case basis.” And the commander-in-chief, of course, reserves the right to change his mind.