Reporter in Iraq: 'I Know There Are Already Boots on the Ground Where I Am'

By Susan Jones | September 11, 2014 | 5:37am EDT

NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel addresses a United Nations Security Council meeting on the protection of journalists and civilians in armed conflict on July 17, 2013 at U.N. headquarters. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

( - NBC News Correspondent Richard Engel, reporting live from Kurdistan in northern Iraq Wednesday night, said U.S. troops are on the ground in Iraq and avoiding reporters.

"I know there are already American boots on the ground where I am now," Engel told MSNBC. "They are not necessarily firing their rifles or kicking down doors, and we're not going on embeds with these troops.

"They are troops who are staying away from reporters, they are embedded with local fighters trying to guide in air strikes, gathering intelligence -- the kind of thing you would have thought the Green Berets would have done many years ago, and which are now being done by Navy SEALS and Delta Force and other Special Operations Forces.

"Can you conduct a secret war like this, a war by remote control to dislodge ISIS, to dislodge this terrorist group, this militant murderous group from large parts of Iraq and large parts of Syria? We will see. It is an open question."

Engel, speaking after President Obama addressed the nation, said the first part of Obama's speech was "very clear" -- he "wants to carry out air strikes to kill enemies who harm the United States," like what he's doing in Somalia and Yemen.

But, Engel added, "The rest of the strategy seemed incredibly fuzzy -- how there was going to be this international coalition that would lend its moral support of Sunni countries, that you would have to rebuild the Iraqi army, which has lost a tremendous amount of credibility so far; and that you would work with all of these local partners on the ground.

The problem is, there aren't many local partners:

There are some in northern Iraq, the Kurds. "But in Syria, there aren't any local partners; they're fictitious partners that he's talking about," Engel said.

"In Iraq, below where I am right now, there is the Iraqi army, which has disintegrated and has not been an effective partner right now." Moreover, Engel said the Sunni villages are afraid of the Iraqi army and don't want it to come into their villages, so America's "partner on the ground" in many cases is a reason that people support ISIS in the first place.

"So aside from the very specific idea of sending in Special Operations, sending in some drones, the rest of the strategy seems quite unclear," Engel concluded.

In his speech Wednesday night, President Obama said the military action he is ordering "will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil." Obama said the counter-terrorism campaign "will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist, using our air power and our support for partner forces on the ground."

Obama also admitted that "there are risks involved, especially to the servicemen and women who carry out these missions."

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