Officials said Friday that it is a "plain fact" that U.S. troops would "inevitably" end up in combat in Syria, according to NBC Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski.
"If there are U.S. military forces on the ground for a sustained period of time inside Syria […], they are inevitably going to end up in combat," Miklaszewski said. "That's a difficult thing for the White House to acknowledge, but officials here say it's just plain fact."
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Miklaszewski hearkened back to the administration's refusal to call American advise-and-assist operations in Syria combat, even as the U.S. ramped up support for rebels there.
"You remember that operation with special operations forces embedded with those Kurdish forces. One of those soldiers, Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler, was killed in that operation," he said. "At that time, White House officials were saying it wasn't combat."
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter "was the first one in the administration" to say that troops are engaged in combat, Miklaszewski said, referring to Carter's statement at the Pentagon last week: "This is combat. Things are complicated."
Miklaszewski said that after Carter's statement, other officials acknowledged the fact that American troops are in combat.
"Subsequently, other military officials have said, of course it's combat," he said. "If you're on the ground, if you're getting shot at and returning fire, it's combat."
Despite the announcement that the U.S. will be ramping up its presence in Syria, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Friday that U.S. strategy has not changed.
"You have heard the president on many occasions discuss our strategy in Syria, and the fact is that our strategy in Syria hasn't changed," he said.