White House spokesman Josh Earnest says the U.S. is at war with ISIS, only one day after top officials tried to dodge the question.
“The United States is at war with ISIL,” Earnest said at the routine midday press briefing Sept. 12.
But on Sept. 11, Secretary of State John Kerry evaded the question.
“I think what we are engaging in is a very significant counter-terrorism operation,” Kerry said. “If someone wants to think of it as being a war on ISIL, they can do so, but the fact is, it’s a major counter-terrorism operation that will have many different moving parts,” he told CNN.
“I don’t know whether you want to call it a war or sustained counterterrorism campaign,” Susan Rice, Obama’s White House National Security Adviser, told CNN Sept. 11.
“I think, frankly, this is a counterterrorism operation that will take time… We will not have American combat forces on the ground fighting as we did in Iraq and Afghanistan which is what I think the American people think of when they think of a war,” Rice said.
“So I think this is very different from that,” she said.
Earnest shifted the White House’s PR strategy by admitting the U.S. is at war with a non-state actor — but he repeatedly emphasized that Obama will not send ground troops to Iraq.
“It is important for people in the United States… to understand the strategy that the United States is pursuing… is different from the strategy that was pursued in Iraq” by President George W. Bush, he said.
Bush intervened in Iraq in 2003 and removed the country’s dictatorial government. He used a large contingent of U.S. ground forces to shield the emerging government from relentless attacks by regime diehards, Iranian militias and al-Qaida jihadis.
However, Obama withdrew U.S. forces from Iraq in 2011, easing its slide into sectarian war and giving space for the Islamic State to prepare for its invasion of northern Iraq in mid-2014.