Back in June, when the potential October Surprise of military action against ISIS was only a dim gleam in Obama’s eye, some 300 US advisors were deployed to Iraq. What was notable about this deployment was that they were not authorized combat pay. As I noted at the time:
It is difficult to see how we help Iraqis “take the fight to the terrorists” if the men we send to do this will be so far removed from combat that they do not draw hazardous duty pay. In order to evaluate what is going on, at some point you have to see the situation for yourself.
That problem has been resolved:
U.S. troops fighting Islamic militants in northern Iraq and possibly Syria will receive combat pay, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said.
The issue of special military compensation surfaced Thursday during a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee, chaired by Howard “Buck” McKeon, R- California, on the Obama administration’s strategy for combating the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, known as ISIL or simply the Islamic State.
Rep. Richard Nugent, R-Florida, asked Hagel whether American service members deploying to the country will receive combat pay. Hagel confirmed they would receive the additional compensation technically known as hostile fire and imminent danger pay.
Not unsurprisingly, Americans will soon be engaged in ground combat in Iraq… and maybe Syria. If they are not already.
Dempsey earlier this week told the Senate Armed Services Committee, headed by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, that U.S. ground troops – in certain scenarios – could become involved in attacks against the Islamic militants. What’s more, he said, U.S. commanders have already sought permission to deploy small teams of U.S. advisers into battle with Iraqi troops and that the president might be persuaded to change his mind, according to an article by Craig Whitlock of The Washington Post.
“He has told me as well to come back to him on a case-by-case basis,” the general said, according to the article. “If we reach the point where I believe our advisers should accompany Iraqi troops on attacks against specific [Islamic State] targets, I’ll recommend that to the president.”
This is one of the few rational decisions that has been made by the White House in response to the ISIS threat that their negligence created. While airstrikes make for great press briefings, to take and hold real estate, protect vulnerable populations, and eradicate the support networks that nurture ISIS you need competent ground forces. This is something that is totally lacking thus far in the plan for “degrading and destroying” ISIS. Iraqi Shia militias can’t operate in Sunni areas. The Peshmerga, victims of reading their own press releases, are gainfully employed defending Kurdish populations. The Iraqi Army, neglected, abused, and malutilized under Maliki, will require extensive rebuilding to be able to hold its own against any but the most minor threats. Everyone in Syria agrees that fighting Assad is the first order of business.
Unless advisors accompany the units they advise they can’t possibly mentor unit leadership, develop training to overcome deficiencies, and most importantly report their capabilities so we have an idea of what to expect from those units. We also have to anticipate those advisors will not shy away from combat opportunities.
What is missing is candor on the part of the Obama administration (yes I did say candor and Obama in the same sentence in a non-ironic fashion) with the American people and with Congress. To reduce ISIS to a manageable threat is going to require an infusion of US ground forces.