Obama set to give ‘fi­nal’ coun­tert­er­ror­ism speech to troops

Will de­scribe suc­cess of his ‘no com­bat’ strat­egy

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - BY DAVE BOYER

Just days after award­ing the Pur­ple Heart to 12 wounded U.S. sol­diers, Pres­i­dent Obama is prepar­ing to de­liver a fi­nal speech on the suc­cess of his “no com­bat” coun­tert­er­ror­ism strat­egy in the Mid­dle East.

The White House said Mr. Obama will travel on Tues­day to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, the same mil­i­tary base where he de­clared in 2014 that U.S. troops de­ploy­ing to Iraq as mil­i­tary ad­vis­ers would have no com­bat role against Is­lamic State ex­trem­ists.

“We will train and equip our part­ners. We will ad­vise them and we will as­sist them,” Mr. Obama told troops at the time. “As your com­man­der-in-chief, I will not com­mit you and the rest of our Armed Forces to fight­ing an­other ground war in Iraq.”

Since then, Mr. Obama has steadily in­creased the de­ploy­ment of U.S. troops to Iraq, where about 5,000 sol­diers are now serv­ing as Iraqi forces wage a sixweek-old of­fen­sive to re­cap­ture Mo­sul, the last Is­lamic State strong­hold in the coun­try.

U.S. ca­su­al­ties in Iraq are just a small frac­tion of the ca­su­alty lev­els dur­ing the peak of the war, when 904 Amer­i­can sol­diers died in 2007. Seven­teen U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq this year, eight by hos­tile fire.

But the an­nounce­ment that Mr. Obama will de­liver a speech to U.S. Special Forces to con­firm the wis­dom of his coun­tert­er­ror­ism strat­egy looks like val­i­da­tion of an ef­fort that is far from set­tled.

The sched­ul­ing of Mr. Obama’s “fi­nal” speech on ter­ror­ism also comes as the pres­i­dent is set to meet with his top for­eign pol­icy ad­vis­ers on Fri­day to con­sider their mil­i­tary and other op­tions in Syria, as Syr­ian and Rus­sian air­craft con­tinue to pum­mel Aleppo and other tar­gets. Reuters re­ported that some top U.S. of­fi­cials are push­ing for the ad­min­is­tra­tion to act more force­fully in Syria or risk los­ing what in­flu­ence it still has over mod­er­ate rebels and its Arab, Kur­dish and Turk­ish al­lies in the fight against Is­lamic State.

Mr. Obama has de­ployed more than 300 U.S. Special Forces in Syria to ad­vise lo­cal fight­ers in the bat­tle against Is­lamic State ex­trem­ists. The U.S. suf­fered its first com­bat death in Syria last week when a ser­vice mem­ber was killed in the north­ern part of the coun­try.

Against that back­drop of low-pro­file but in­dis­putably grow­ing mil­i­tary in­volve­ment, Mr. Obama vis­ited wounded sol­diers Tues­day at the Wal­ter Reed Na­tional Mil­i­tary Med­i­cal Center in Bethesda, Mary­land. Dur­ing the trip that he per­forms four times a year, aides said Mr. Obama met with 13 wounded ser­vice mem­bers and awarded the Pur­ple Heart to 12 of them.

Nei­ther the White House nor the Pen­tagon pro­vided in­for­ma­tion Thursday on the sol­diers’ iden­ti­ties, nor the the­aters of op­er­a­tion in which they were wounded.

Asked how U.S. troops could be in­jured or killed by hos­tile fire if they are not in com­bat sit­u­a­tions, White House press sec­re­tary Josh Earnest said their mis­sion or­dered by Mr. Obama “is one that’s dan­ger­ous and, in some cases, re­quires them to pay the ul­ti­mate sac­ri­fice.”

But he again drew a dis­tinc­tion be­tween Mr. Obama’s strat­egy and the large-scale ground in­va­sion or­dered by Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush in 2003.

“That strat­egy didn’t work,” he said. “And we’re still to this day deal­ing with the con­se­quences of that poor strat­egy.”

MacDill Air Force Base is the home of the U.S. Special Op­er­a­tions Com­mand and the U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand. While at the base on Tues­day, the pres­i­dent will meet with uni­formed lead­er­ship from both com­mands, and with some of the special forces who have been cen­tral to the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s strat­egy against the Is­lamic State.

“The pres­i­dent will of­fer his per­sonal grat­i­tude and that of the na­tion for the pro­fes­sion­al­ism, skill, and sac­ri­fice of those Amer­i­can pa­tri­ots,” Mr. Earnest said.

He said Mr. Obama’s speech will fo­cus on “our strat­egy and the gains we have made, while stay­ing true to the val­ues that have al­ways been at Amer­ica’s core.”

“This speech will be a fi­nal op­por­tu­nity for him to dis­cuss at length how he has ef­fec­tively, durably, and suc­cess­fully im­ple­mented re­forms to keep us safe,” Mr. Earnest said.

The pre­view strongly hinted that Mr. Obama will de­fend his coun­tert­er­ror­ism strat­egy, which has been sharply crit­i­cized by Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump and con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans, as the cor­rect path for­ward for the in­com­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion.

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