By Michael Hernandez
WASHINGTON (AA) - The Obama administration is playing politics with the U.S. effort to fight Daesh in Iraq and Syria, a former Pentagon chief said Thursday.
“I think that is incredibly unfortunate not to speak openly about what is going on,” Robert Gates -- Obama’s first defense chief and who also served under President George W. Bush, said while speaking on Morning Joe on the MSNBC cable station.
“American troops are in action. They are being killed. They are in combat and these semantic backflips to avoid using the term ‘combat’ is a disservice to those who are out there putting their lives on the line,” he added.
Navy SEAL Charles Keating died earlier this month in a direct fire incident with Daesh near Erbil, Iraq, becoming the latest U.S. casualty in the fight against the terror group. So far, three service members have died in combat and 10 others have died in noncombat incidents.
The Obama administration has steadfastly refused to label the U.S. mission to degrade and defeat Daesh in Iraq a “combat mission” despite the mounting casualty toll.
Gates said the reluctance can be attributed to politics and President Barack Obama's pledge to end combat operations in Iraq.
"It's got everything to do with the politics of we've ended combat operations in Iraq. It's over. We're done. We're out of there," Gates said.
Approximately 5,000 service members have been deployed to Iraq, the bulk of whom are training and advising local forces.
The White House rebutted Gates’ claim, saying the mission that Obama has sent the forces on is far different from that which Bush embarked on “where their principal responsibility was to seek out and engage the adversary in combat.
“The mission that has been given to U.S. forces is different,” spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.