State Department spokesman John Kirby said Friday that he did not know whether President Obama ever ruled out putting boots on the ground in Syria, despite the Obama administration's long-standing narrative that it would not enter ground combat in Syria.
When Reuters reporter Arshad Mohammed asked Kirby whether the decision to deploy "less than 50" Special Operations forces to Syria was a change in policy, Kirby said no.
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"So your previous policy did not encompass putting boots on the ground in Syria, your current strategy as outlined by the White House does include putting boots on the ground in Syria, but there is no change in policy there?" Mohammed asked.
"The policy was that we weren't going to engage in large-ground combat operations, large-scale offensive ground operations against ISIL, and that is still not going to occur," Kirby said, echoing an earlier statement by White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest that the United States has not changed its strategy in Syria.
Mohammed continued to press Kirby on the shift in policy.
"But the policy was you didn't have boots on the ground. That was a policy decision. The president could have put boots on the ground. He didn't," he said.
Kirby then said that he didn't know whether Obama ever ruled out the decision to put boots on the ground, even though the president pledged in 2013 that he "will not put American boots on the ground in Syria."
"Just because you don't rule something out doesn't mean it's a policy," Mohammed said.
Kirby repeated his earlier statement, reflecting foreign policy miscommunication between the White House and the State Department.
"I'll defer to my colleagues at the White House to speak to presidential policy here, I'm not aware that there was a policy about putting U.S. boots on the ground in Syria in any capacity whatsoever," he said.