Rep. Seth Moulton (D., Mass.) on Thursday lambasted the Obama administration’s strategy to roll back the Islamic State and its refusal to say American troops deployed to Iraq are on a combat mission, arguing the president has no long-term plan to ensure peace and that U.S. soldiers are "absolutely" engaged in fighting on the ground.
Appearing on CNN with host Jake Tapper, Moulton, a Marine Corps veteran who served four terms in Iraq, explained that the administration currently has no strategy to address Iraq’s political situation, which he says is why American soldiers are back fighting there.
"The bottom line is that we have a military strategy to defeat ISIS, but we don’t have any long-term political strategy to ensure the peace," Moulton said. "And that’s why we find ourselves back in Iraq again today, refighting the same battles that I and my fellow Marines and soldiers fought just eight or ten years ago."
Moulton argued that the U.S. needs a "clear mission for the troops" and a "clear endgame" coupled with a strategy to maintain stability once ISIS is defeated.
"Look, we already fought these same battles against al Qaeda, but then we pulled out of Iraq so quickly," Moulton added, referencing President Obama’s decision to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq in 2011. "And not just pulling out the troops. I’m talking about pulling out the diplomats, the people who were working in the prime minister’s office, in the ministries. The Iraqi government just went off the rails, and as a result created this political vacuum that ISIS came in to occupy."
Tapper noted that while the U.S. now has over 4,000 troops on the ground in Iraq, the White House repeatedly refuses to call their presence a combat mission, instead emphasizing they will only be advising local forces.
"That’s just simply not true; this absolutely is a combat mission," Moulton responded. "In 2004, I had an advisory mission as a Marine with my platoon in Iraq. We were advisers to an Iraqi unit, and when that Iraqi unit started to get overrun, we went to their assistance and started the Battle of Najaf, which was some of the fiercest fighting of the war."
Moulton said there is a very fine line between an advisory mission and combat, "and it’s very clear from the death of the Navy SEAL just last week that this is absolutely a combat mission."
The congressman was referring to Navy SEAL Charlie Keating IV, who was killed last week when ISIS fighters attacked Kurdish peshmerga forces he was advising.
Moulton said he was not sure why the administration refuses to say any soldiers in Iraq are in a combat role but criticized Obama’s handling of ISIS.
"This is a president who promised to get us out of Iraq and then promised to use the tools of diplomacy to prevent wars from happening and that just hasn’t happened," Moulton told Tapper. "Our solution, our strategy is to train Iraqi troops. Well, you don’t fix Iraqi politics by training Iraqi troops. And Iraqi politics are broken. That’s the fundamental problem in Iraq that we need to fix."
Tapper noted at the start of the interview that Moulton tweeted a photo last week of himself in uniform with a counterpart in the Iraqi Army, who was killed by ISIS fighters.
"Yesterday I lost my closest friend in the Iraqi Army to ISIS and our failed policy in Iraq," the tweet says.
Yesterday I lost my closest friend in the Iraqi Army to ISIS and our failed policy in Iraq. pic.twitter.com/DERLouYPmL
— Seth Moulton (@sethmoulton) May 6, 2016
In another tweet, Moulton directly mentions the administration, writing, "Just to be clear (and to contradict the White House), this IS a combat mission in Iraq."
Just to be clear (and to contradict the White House), this IS a combat mission in Iraq: https://t.co/gbCOJR52LW
— Seth Moulton (@sethmoulton) May 11, 2016
"He was my closest friend in the Iraqi army," Moulton told Tapper when asked about the tweets.