On Tuesday night, the major broadcast networks worked to quickly remind viewers that President Barack Obama has promised that no United States combat troops will be on the ground in the Middle East to fight the Islamic terrorist group ISIS despite congressional testimony by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, on Tuesday that U.S. troops returning to Iraq could still be a possibility.
ABC, CBS, and NBC each offered reports on Dempsey’s statements and included ABC World News Tonight anchor David Muir asking ABC News chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl to “keep us honest” on the question of “[b]oots on the ground in Iraq” and lamented: “That's not what the President said last week.”
Speaking before the Senate Armed Services Committee, General Dempsey suggested that if a time comes when Dempsey believes U.S. troops “should accompany Iraq troops on attacks against specific ISIL targets, I'll recommend that to the President.”
Further, he told Senators that: "If there are threats to the United States, then I, of course, would go back to the President and make a recommendation that may include the use of U.S. military ground forces."
Returning back to the brief segment on World News Tonight (which lasted for only 56 seconds), Karl told Muir that “the door seemed open a crack today when General Dempsey testified on the Hill,” but made sure to mention just prior that “[i]f there’s one thing the President has been clear about, it’s that there will be no U.S. ground troops.”
On NBC Nightly News, NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell joined CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley in expressing the possibility of “mission creep” entering into the equation of fighting ISIS with ground troops in some capacity.
Mitchell played a clip of Dempsey expressing the possibility of U.S. troops accompanying Iraqi troops on select missions if he sees necessary, then immediately added a caveat that “the President has repeatedly promised no boots on the ground” both in a prime time address on September 10 and in an interview with Meet the Press moderator Chuck Todd that aired on September 7.
Also, Mitchell stated at the end of her report that:
The White House quickly said that General Dempsey's comments were only hypothetical and under pressure from the White House tonight, Dempsey's spokesman said American combat forces are not required now, but he repeated that, if the situation calls for combat troops, he will ask for them.
The full transcript of the segment that aired on ABC World News Tonight with David Muir on September 16 is transcribed below.
ABC World News Tonight with David Muir
September 16, 2014
6:38 p.m. Eastern
DAVID MUIR: Tonight, the nation's top general, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, raising a controversial possibility: U.S. troops in combat in Iraq again. This time, to help fight the brutal killers of ISIS. I want to bring in ABC's chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl live tonight and, Jon, keep us honest on this: Boots on the ground in Iraq? That's not what the President said last week.
JONATHAN KARL: That's right, David. If there’s one thing the President has been clear about, it’s that there will be no U.S. ground troops.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Fighting ISIS; Will There Be “Boots on the Ground?”]
As he said just last week, we will not get dragged into a ground war, but the door seemed open a crack today when General Dempsey testified on the Hill, saying U.S. troops could be imbedded in with Iraqi forces to help identify targets for air strikes. It all comes down to how you define combat. If such a mission were approved, the White House says those would not be considered combat troops, but make no mistakes, David, that would be a dangerous mission, no matter what you call it.
MUIR: Alright, Jon Karl from Washington tonight. Jon, thank you.
The complete transcript from the two relevant segments that aired on the CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley on September 16 can be found below.
CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley
September 16, 2014
6:30 p.m. Eastern [TEASE]
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Ground Troops?]
SCOTT PELLEY: Just days after the President said this –
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq.
PELLEY: America's top military officer says this –
GENERAL MARTIN DEMPSEY: If we reached a point where I believe our advisers should accompany Iraq troops on attacks against specific ISIL targets, I'll recommend that to the President.
6:33 p.m. Eastern
PELLEY: There are new concerns tonight about mission creep in Iraq where President Obama has deployed more than 1,000 U.S. troops. Mr. Obama has insisted those troops will not be drawn into a ground war against Sunni Muslim terrorists known as ISIS, but today, America's top military officer told Congress he might recommend it. Here's David Martin.
DAVID MARTIN: In his testimony, Joint Chiefs Chairman General Martin Dempsey said he thinks it will be necessary to send American advisers to the front lines of the battle against ISIS forces in Iraq, which he called by the initials I-S-I-L.
DEMPSEY: If we reached a point where I believe our advisers should accompany Iraq troops on attacks against special ISIL targets, I'll recommend that to the president.
MARTIN: Dempsey added that, despite at the same times ruling out sending troops into ground combat, the President has not closed his mind to the idea.
DEMPSEY: He has told me as well to come back to him on a case-by-case basis.
MARTIN: Dempsey revealed that General Lloyd Austin, head of the U.S. Central Command, already recommended sending U.S. forward air controllers out with Iraqi and Kurdish troops to call in air strikes against ISIS forces in the fight around Mosul Dam. That didn't happen, but Dempsey identified an upcoming battle in an attempt to retake the city of Mosul in which it might.
DEMPSEY: It could very well be part of that particular mission to provide close combat advising or accompanying for that mission.
MARTIN: Dempsey outlined a strategy in which American air strikes would help push Kurdish forces push south and west and Iraqi forces north and west to squeeze ISIS out of Iraq and back into Syria. And if that doesn't work?
DEMPSEY: If it fails to be true and there are threats to the United States then I, of course, would go back to the President and make a recommendation that may include the use of U.S. military ground forces.
MARTIN: But Dempsey did rule out sending American ground troops into Syria, even though that's where two-third of the ISIS fighters are located. That, he said, is a job that has to be done by troops from Arab nations.
PELLEY: David Martin at the Pentagon tonight. David, thank you. President Obama met today with the man he's appointed to lead the U.S. effort against ISIS. Retired Marine Corps General John Allen got a lot of experience leading allies as Commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan. Allen will lead the fight from the State Department where we find Margaret Brennan tonight at her post. Margaret, why the State Department?
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, Scott, basing General Allen at the State Department is an acknowledgment that air strikes are only part of the strategy. Allen will coordinate with a coalition of 40 countries to shut off the flow of funds to ISIS, stem the tide of foreign fighters into the region, and help coordinate the training of Syrian and Iraqi forces. Secretary Kerry says the U.S. is fighting an ideology, not a regime, and that requires more than just a military response.
PELLEY: Margaret, thanks.
The transcript from the segment that aired on NBC Nightly News on September 16 is transcribed below.
NBC Nightly News
September 16, 2014
7:00 p.m. Eastern [TEASE]
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE CAPTION: Boots on the Ground?]
BRIAN WILLIAMS: On our broadcast tonight, boots on the ground. Did the nation's top military officer just open the door to the possibility of American combat troops in this fight against ISIS despite what the President told the nation?
7:01 p.m. Eastern
WILLIAMS: But first, to an enemy operating out in the open.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE CAPTION: Boots on the Ground?]
This fight against ISIS and the debate that broke out again today was whether or not the U.S. can truly avoid putting troops on the ground. It's where we begin tonight with our chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell.
ANDREA MITCHELL: Is this the beginning of mission creep? The President's top general today opening the door to requesting American boots on the ground against ISIS.
GENERAL MARTIN DEMPSEY: If we reach the point where I believe our advisers should accompany Iraq troops on attacks against specific ISIL targets, I'll recommend that to the President.
MITCHELL: And this:
DEMPSEY: If there are threats to the United States, then I, of course, would go back to the President and make a recommendation that may include the use of U.S. military ground forces.
MITCHELL: But the President has repeatedly promised no boots on the ground.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: These American forces will not have a combat mission. We will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq.
MITCHELL: And telling Chuck Todd on Meet the Press:
OBAMA: The notion that the United States should be putting boots on the ground I think would be a profound mistake.
MITCHELL: General Dempsey even told Congress U.S. troops could be embedded with Iraqis on complex missions like retaking Mosul and he said it could take a year to train only 5,000 Syrian forces to go up against ISIS in Syria, something critics in both parties say should have been done two years ago.
SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (R-ARIZ.): Was the President right in 2012 when he overruled his Secretary of Defense, Secretary of State and Director of the CIA and refused to train and equip the modern opposition forces in Syria, which, according to your testimony, we're doing today?
DEMPSEY: Senator, you know that I recommended that we train them.
MITCHELL: ISIS isn't waiting. Today, in a propaganda video, claiming it shot down a Syrian war plane, a claim NBC News cannot verify, and two branches of al-Qaeda tweeted a rare joint message urging warring militants in Iraq and Syria to “stop the infighting between you and stand as one rank against America's campaign.” Even as the U.S. escalated its air war, striking ISIS targets near Baghdad. The White House quickly said that General Dempsey's comments were only hypothetical and under pressure from the White House tonight, Dempsey's spokesman said American combat forces are not required now, but he repeated that, if the situation calls for combat troops, he will ask for them.
WILLIAMS: Andrea Mitchell starting us off in our D.C. newsroom tonight. Thanks.