Obama: Troops died in combat in Iraq
By TARA COPP | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 27, 2016
WASHINGTON – Three U.S. servicemembers who died fighting the Islamic State group in Iraq were killed in combat, President Barack Obama said Friday in an exclusive Q&A with Stars and Stripes.
The losses of Navy SEAL Charles Keating IV, Delta Force soldier Master Sgt. Joshua L. Wheeler and Marine Staff Sgt. Louis F. Cardin had previously been called combat deaths by White House and Pentagon officials. Obama’s comments Friday appeared to be the first time that the president himself has acknowledged them as combat deaths.
“These three men were killed in combat while they were supporting local forces in Iraq,” Obama said. “They gave their lives to keep us safe, and our prayers are with their families who have endured a loss that few of us can imagine,” noting he would be honoring their sacrifice on Memorial Day.
Obama addressed whether U.S. forces are in combat in the Middle East in the written Q&A with Stars and Stripes, and several other key security decisions of his presidency, including his 2011 decision to withdraw forces from Iraq and why he won’t say the United States is at war with Islamic extremists.
Obama, who is in the final months of his presidency, said he hopes U.S. forces “can look back and feel that I tried to do right by them and their families…That I deployed them wisely, never rushed to war and only sent them into harm’s way when it was absolutely necessary for our security, and that, when I did, I gave them the clear mission and support they needed to succeed.”
The operations of about 4,000 U.S. forces in Iraq and about 300 forces in Syria have been repeatedly called “train, advise and assist” missions by the White House and not combat missions.
“As commander in chief, I’ve spoken as clearly as I can about our mission against the [Islamic State group] both what it is and what it is not,” Obama said, stating the mission remains to support, train and equip local forces in Iraq and Syria to help them in their fight against the terrorist group.
“This is a dangerous mission, and our forces will sometimes face combat situations, as did Master Sergeant Wheeler, Staff Sergeant Cardin and Chief Special Warfare Operator Keating,” Obama said.
Keating was killed May 4 while rescuing fellow U.S. advisers who were ambushed by about 125 Islamic State fighters who had breached Kurdish defenses near Telskof, Iraq. Cardin was killed in March when Fire Base Bell at Makmour, Iraq, was attacked with rockets. Wheeler was killed in October 2015 helping free hostages who were about to be executed by the Islamic State group at a prison near Hawijah, Iraq.