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US Troops in Iraq 'Will Not Have a Combat Mission,' Obama Insists

The White House(TAMPA, Fla.) -- Speaking to hundreds of military personnel in Florida, President Obama on Wednesday sought to reassure the people tasked with carrying out his new anti-terror strategy that “the American forces that have been deployed to Iraq do not and will not have a combat mission.”

“As your commander in chief, I will not commit you and the rest of our armed forces to fighting another ground war in Iraq,” the president told troops packed into a gymnasium at MacDill Air Force Base, after meeting with top commanders about the new strategy to counter the ISIS threat.

“After a decade of massive ground deployments, it is more effective to use our unique capabilities in support of partners on the ground so they can secure their own countries’ futures. And that’s the only solution that will succeed over the long term,” he said.

As the U.S. seeks to build an international coalition of support, the president reiterated “this is not and will not be America’s fight alone.”

“We’re not going to do this alone. And the one thing we have learned is that when we do things alone and the countries -- the people of those countries aren’t doing it for themselves, as soon as we leave we start getting the same problems. So we’ve got to do things different,” he said. “We cannot do for the Iraqis what they must do for themselves.”

Obama's remarks come one day after his top military adviser opened the door to possibly deploying U.S. ground forces in the fight against ISIS if airstrikes prove insufficient.

“If we reach the point where I believe our advisors should accompany Iraqi troops on attacks against specific ISIL targets, I will recommend that to the president,” Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday.

Dempsey is not alone. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned on Wednesday that “there will be boots on the ground if there's to be any hope of success in the strategy.”

“I think that by continuing to repeat that [there won't be troops on the ground], the president in effect traps himself,” Gates told CBS News.

“Sending our service members into harm’s way is not a decision I ever take lightly; it is the hardest decision I make as president,” Obama said in closing his remarks.

“Nothing else comes close. I do it only when I know the mission is vital to the security of this
country that we love. I do it only because I know that you’re the best there is at what you do,” he said.

Still, on Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said that the president could consider sending advisors into combat situations on a case-by-case basis. “They would not be personally or directly engaging the enemy… in some cases they could be in positions to call in airstrikes,” Earnest said. “But as General Dempsey said yesterday, this has not yet been necessary."

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