Mr. Obama, in his White House speech and again to troops at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., ruled [deploying ground forces] out. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned that if airstrikes failed to vanquish the militants, he would recommend it to the president.
The White House has tried to square these two statements by offering an extremely narrow definition of combat: American advisers could be sent to the front lines alongside Iraqi and Kurdish troops, and could even call in airstrikes, without directly engaging the enemy. It is a definition rejected by virtually every military expert.
"Calling in airstrikes is just as much combat as firing a rifle at someone," said John A. Nagl, a retired lieutenant colonel who served in a tank battalion in Iraq and helped write the Army's counterinsurgency field manual. "What that guy really is doing is painting a house with a laser designator that results in that house being vaporized."
The American advisers are armed, and if they are shot at by the enemy, they are authorized to return fire. In a close combat advisory role in a city, experts said, the American troops would tell Iraqi commanders which house to hit, how much ammunition to use in an assault, and how to organize medical evacuation for their troops.
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