- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A day after his counterparts at the Pentagon said U.S. ground troops may be needed in the future to defeat Islamic State extremists in Syria and Iraq, Secretary of State John F. Kerry asserted outright Wednesday that “U.S. ground troops will not be sent into combat in this conflict.”

Mr. Kerry made the assertion after a group of sign-carrying anti-war protesters briefly attempted to break up the opening of a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing with chants of, “No more war! No more war!”

“I want to be clear,” Mr. Kerry told lawmakers moments after Capitol Police quieted the protesters, “the U.S. troops that have been deployed to Iraq do not and will not have a combat mission.”

The administration has already deployed more than 1,000 U.S. special forces to Iraq to advise Iraqi and Kurdish forces in the fight against Islamic State militants, as well as to protect U.S. personnel in the nation.

The Pentagon’s top general made headlines Tuesday by suggesting that the possibility of U.S. troops to take on a combat role against the Islamic State remains open — and will be weighed as the campaign to defeat the extremist movement evolves during the months ahead.

Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that if it were to appear that Iraqi troops and Kurdish forces had a chance to reverse some of the Islamic State’s gains — such as retaking Mosul — U.S. troops might be needed.

“An example: If the Iraqi security forces and the [Kurdish peshmerga] were at some point ready to retake Mosul — a mission that I would find to be extraordinarily complex — it could very well be part of that particular mission to provide close combat advising or accompanying for that mission,” Gen. Dempsey said. “But for the day-to-day activities that I anticipate will evolve over time, I don’t see it to be necessary right now.”

President Obama appeared eager Wednesday to re-characterize Gen. Dempsey’s comments.

Appearing for a major speech to U.S. troops at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, the home of the Pentagon’s U.S. Central Command, Mr. Obama said that American forces “do not and will not have a combat mission” in Iraq.

“As your commander in chief, I will not commit you and the rest of our armed forces to fighting another ground war in Iraq,” the president said.

Mr. Kerry sought to hammer the message home during the Senate hearing on Wednesday afternoon.

“From the last decade we know that a sustainable strategy is not U.S. ground forces,” he told lawmakers. “It is enabling local forces to do what they must for themselves and their country.”

‘Taking out an entire network’

The secretary of state asserted that the growing “global coalition” against the Islamic State is not only about “taking out an enemy on the battlefield, it’s about taking out a network — decimating and discrediting a militant cult masquerading as a religious movement.”

“In addition to the military campaign, it will be equally important for the global coalition to dry up ISIL’s illicit funding, to stop the foreign fighters who carry passports from countries around the world including the United States, to continue to deliver urgently needed humanitarian assistance,” Mr. Kerry said. “Finally, and we can’t overstate this, we must continue to repudiate the gross distortion of Islam that ISIL is spreading, and put an end to the sermons by extremists that brainwash young men to join these movements and commit mass atrocities in the name of God.”

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