U.S. advisers are going to Iraq to help the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE, AFP/Getty Images
WASHINGTON - The forces President Obama is sending to Iraq will not be conventional combat troops, but that doesn't mean they can avoid combat or risk.
"American forces will not be returning to combat in Iraq," Obama pledged Thursday.
The troops going to Iraq will be small teams of Special Forces advisers that will provide assistance to Iraqi security forces and provide the Pentagon with eyes and ears on the ground. Obama said he would commit no more than 300 people.
The advisers will avoid "offensive operations" and will be positioned at the brigade level and above, according to a senior Defense official speaking on condition of anonymity because the official was not allowed to talk publicly about details of the mission. The advisers will not be on patrol with squads or platoons.
But the battles in Iraq have no distinct front lines, making it difficult to avoid combat. During the Iraq War, rockets and mortars often targeted headquarters, and militants place improvised explosives on the roads, making movement risky.
"In the sort of war we've seen waged in Iraq ... it is very difficult to draw those fine distinctions," said Peter Mansoor, a retired Army officer and author of Surge: My Journey with General David Petraeus and the Remaking of the Iraq War. He served as a brigade commander in Iraq.
The challenge for the president is to commit enough forces to assist the Iraqis while ensuring the mission doesn't expand over time.
The Vietnam War started with a limited mission of U.S. advisers sent to help the South Vietnamese armed forces.
"We always have to guard against mission creep, so let me repeat what I've said in the past: American combat troops are not going to be fighting in Iraq again," Obama said.
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