(CNSNews.com) – Three years ago, President Obama said he did not “foresee a scenario in which boots on the ground in Syria, American boots on the ground in Syria would not only be good for America, but also would be good for Syria.”
It was a stance repeated on a number of occasions since then, even as U.S. forces have been sent both to Iraq and, in much smaller numbers, to Syria, to help local forces in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL).
On Monday he announced he was authorizing the deployment of 250 troops to Syria, where around 50 special forces operators have been based since late last year.
State Department spokesman John Kirby said Monday that the deployments in Syria and Iraq do not constitute “boots on the ground” in the sense of a conventional ground combat mission.
At a press conference in Costa Rica in May 2013, at a time when claims of the small-scale use of sarin gas in the Syrian conflict were under investigation, Obama was asked about the possibility of sending troops to Syria.
“As a general rule, I don’t rule things out as commander-in-chief because circumstances change and you want to make sure that I always have the full power of the United States at our disposal to meet American national security interests,” he replied.
“Having said that, I do not foresee a scenario in which boots on the ground in Syria, American boots on the ground in Syria would not only be good for America, but also would be good for Syria,” the president continued.
Weeks later, the White House confirmed that sarin gas had been used – the first crossing of Obama’s “red line” on chemical weapons by the Assad regime.
A much larger chemical weapons attack two months later triggered an international crisis. Obama threatened limited military strikes, which he said during a weekly address on September 10 would be “a targeted strike to achieve a clear objective.”
In the context of that planned mission, he repeated the no troops pledge.
“I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria,” he said. “I will not pursue an open-ended action like Iraq or Afghanistan.”
Obama subsequently backed away from the threat of limited airstrikes, after Russia proposed a deal to remove and destroy Assad’s chemical stockpile instead.
In June 2014, Obama sent up to 300 military advisers to help the Iraqis face the growing threat of ISIS. The jihadists had overrun large swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq, including Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul.
That number of U.S. troops was quickly doubled, and on July 3, then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel stated, “None of these troops are performing combat missions. None will perform combat missions. President Obama has been very clear that American combat troops are not going to be fighting in Iraq again.”
That August, when Obama announced plans to start carrying out targeted airstrikes against ISIS positions in Iraq, he emphasized that “as commander-in-chief, I will not allow the United States to be dragged into fighting another war in Iraq.”
“And so even as we support Iraqis as they take the fight to these terrorists, American combat troops will not be returning to fight in Iraq, because there’s no American military solution to the larger crisis in Iraq,” he said.
When in September he announced the launch of a coalition against ISIS, coupled with an additional U.S. troop deployment, Obama again stressed U.S. combat troops would not be “fighting on foreign soil.”
“Any time we take military action, there are risks involved – especially to the servicemen and women who carry out these missions,” he said. “But I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil.”