The Obama administration has "long struggled to explain its strategy" against the Islamic State terrorist group, NBC reporter Richard Engel said Wednesday, and it's "struggling again" as there appears to be a gap between the White House and the Pentagon regarding the potential use of ground troops against the organization.
"This administration has long struggled to explain its strategy against ISIS, and it's struggling again with the White House insisting nothing has changed even as the Pentagon is considering an expanded role for U.S. troops in both Iraq and Syria," Engel said on The Today Show.
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Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced a shift in U.S. policy Tuesday toward the use of "direct action on the ground" to combat IS, which has seized large swathes of Iraq and Syria since the summer of 2014. President Obama had previously said there would be no U.S. ground troops used to fight the Islamic State.
"We won’t hold back from supporting capable partners in opportunistic attacks against ISIL, or conducting such missions directly whether by strikes from the air or direct action on the ground," Carter told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
"But direct action on the ground sounds a lot different from what the president has repeatedly promised," Engel said.
"The American forces that have been deployed to Iraq do not and will not have a combat mission," Obama said in September 2014, shortly after announcing in a major address his plan to "degrade and ultimately destroy" IS.
"The White House seems to want it both ways, saying no regular troops will be in combat. Only small numbers of special ops forces will do that," Engel said. "To some, it's Washington doublespeak."
Col. Jack Jacobs, an NBC News terrorism analyst, has sharply criticized the Obama administration's Middle East policy before and called this latest rhetoric typical politics from the administration.
"Anybody in combat is boots on the ground," Jacobs said. "The White House has been trying to play politics here and try to convince everybody that special operations forces are not boots on the ground."
Admitting it or not, Engel said, the U.S. is getting "deeper into the war" against IS.