Obama to send special forces to Iraq just days after he said he wouldn’t send any troops

In a Friday morning press conference at the White House, President Barack Obama told reporters without equivocation that his administration “will not be sending U.S. troops back into combat in Iraq” and that the intervention would be limited to airstrikes against Islamic militants wreaking havoc in the country.

Well, that was then. ABC News reported this morning that President Obama has sent 275 special forces troops to Iraq to secure U.S. assets and advise the the country’s fledging military as ISIS inches closer to Baghdad:

As the militant group ISIS – the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria – continues to fight, young Iraqi men lined the streets, scrambling to find discarded U.S. and Iraqi military gear so they could join the fight to defend Baghdad.

Obama has told Congress he will send about 170 of the troops to the U.S. Embassy to secure the scores of Americans still present there. The $700 million fortress is the size of 80 football fields, built to withstand attacks.

Obama is also considering sending in U.S. Special Forces – 100 in all — to help advise Iraqi forces. Those forces, some of which might be sent to Kuwait, could be used for airfield management, security and logistics support, officials said.

These troops aren’t being sent for combat operations, so that technically President Obama isn’t going back on what he told reporters last week. But that’s not how most Americans are going to see it — and after all, perception is reality.

ISIS forces are reportedly within 40 miles of Baghdad, after taking Baqubah on Monday. It’s quite possible that U.S. forces sent to secure the embassy will be forced to fight the ruthless Islamic militants if they advance far enough into the city and threaten the embassy. And that blows a hole in what the administration has been saying, as Jonathan Karl explains:

Sending a small contingent of US Special Operations Forces to advise the Iraqis “is a viable, potential course of action,” a senior White House official told ABC News today.

The official adds: “The key point is that it’s one of many options and these would not be combat troops, but additional advisors.”

This would be a significant step, for a president who has repeatedly touted the fact that all US troops have left Iraq except for the Marines there to protect the embassy. The White House may say that special operations “advisors” is different than sending “combat troops” — but they would be advising Iraqi forces in Iraq — something more than just training — and it is hard to make the case they would not be in harm’s way.

A survey released this morning by Public Policy Polling finds that 74 percent of Americans oppose sending troops back into Iraq, though 67 percent do believe the United States should provide arms and intelligence to help the Iraqi government stabilize the situation.

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