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WASHINGTON, Aug 3, 2010 (IPS) - Seventeen months after President Barack Obama pledged to withdraw all combat brigades from Iraq by Sep. 1, 2010, he quietly abandoned that pledge Monday, admitting implicitly that such combat brigades would remain until the end of 2011.
Obama declared in a speech to disabled U.S. veterans in Atlanta that "America's combat mission in Iraq" would end by the end of August, to be replaced by a mission of "supporting and training Iraqi security forces".
That statement was in line with the pledge he had made on Feb. 27, 2009, when he said, "Let me say this as plainly as I can: by Aug. 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end."
In the sentence preceding that pledge, however, he had said, "I have chosen a timeline that will remove our combat brigades over the next 18 months." Obama said nothing in his speech Monday about withdrawing "combat brigades" or "combat troops" from Iraq until the end of 2011.
Even the concept of "ending the U.S. combat mission" may be highly misleading, much like the concept of "withdrawing U.S. combat brigades" was in 2009.
Under the administration's definition of the concept, combat operations will continue after August 2010, but will be defined as the secondary role of U.S. forces in Iraq. The primary role will be to "advise and assist" Iraqi forces.
An official who spoke with IPS on condition that his statements would be attributed to a "senior administration official" acknowledged that the 50,000 U.S. troops remaining in Iraq beyond the deadline will have the same combat capabilities as the combat brigades that have been withdrawn. The official also acknowledged that the troops will engage in some combat but suggested that the combat would be "mostly" for defensive purposes.
That language implied that there might be circumstances in which U.S. forces would carry out offensive operations as well.
IPS has learned, in fact, that the question of what kind of combat U.S. troops might become involved in depends in part on the Iraqi government, which will still be able to request offensive military actions by U.S. troops if it feels it necessary.
Obama's jettisoning of one of his key campaign promises and of a high-profile pledge early in his administration without explicit acknowledgement highlights the way in which language on national security policy can be manipulated for political benefit with the acquiescence of the news media.
Despite the fact that the disparity between Obama's public declaration and the reality of the policy was an obvious and major political story, however, the news media – including the New York Times, which had carried multiple stories about the military's "remissioning" scheme – failed to report on it. .
*Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, "Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam", was published in 2006.