NBC journalist Kristen Welker questioned White House spokesman Josh Earnest on Obama’s promise from 2013 that there would not be boots on the ground in Syria, in light of news that the U.S. would deploy special operations forces into Syria to assist in the fight against the Islamic State.
"With this announcement today, is he effectively breaking that promise to the American people?" Welker asked.
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Earnest said that Obama was answering questions on what the U.S. was prepared to do if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had to be removed from power and that Obama was not going to put boots on the ground to combat the Assad regime. Earnest likened the maneuver to that of the Bush administration and that it did not suit the needs of the American people.
"The quote that you have pulled there is a very different situation," Earnest said.
Welker continued to push Earnest for clarification on Obama, asking whether the decision to station at least 50 special operations forces would effectively be putting boots on the ground. The special operations forces would be stationed in the northern part of the country. Obama has been consistent in saying that he would not implement a military strategy that would involve boots on the ground.
Earnest continued to tell Welker that she was taking Obama’s statement out of context.
"You have acknowledged that these 50 forces could be in dangerous situations and could wind up in combat roles. So given that how could that not have changed in strategy?" Welker asked.
Earnest said that the strategy all along was to build the capacity of local forces to fight against IS for themselves in their own country. He pointed out that United States efforts to reequip the fighters and to assist in air strikes prior to ground movement has been effective in improving their ground strategy.