Sixty-six American troops killed. Two hundred ninety-five Wounded in Action.
Are those numbers from an American combat operation? Not according to our government, which said they, and the other 50,000 troops in Iraq (which included me), were part of the "official end to Operation Iraqi Freedom and combat operations," under Operation New Dawn, after August 2010.
I thought back to that, today, as I read about one very interesting line in the Senate resolution authorizing military action in Syria, which passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Most in the media, and on the Hill, talk about how the resolution disallows American troops on the ground. That isn't true. What the bill says is, "The authority granted in section 2 does not authorize the use of the United States Armed Forces on the ground in Syria for the purpose of combat operations."
That is key. Officially, those 66 Americans killed, and 295 wounded in Iraq were not part of combat operations, either. Yet, for those of us on the ground, we knew they very much were.
Whenever we send troops to the kind of asymmetrical battlefield that we had in Iraq, and would definitely see in Syria, they are automatically combat troops. They can face attack at any time, and would have to respond appropriately, at any time. To say they will be in any kind of safe-zone, away from combat, is naïve.
More importantly, even among the rebels, in their strongholds, we will have a very difficult time telling friend from foe.
The rebels are made up of a number of different groups, including those connected to al-Qaeda. At plain sight, it will be hard to tell who is who. I think about the rash of "Green on Blue" deaths in Afghanistan, where our military advisors, thinking they were among allies, were really among those sympathetic to anti-American forces, and killed by them.
In Syria, often the enemy of our enemy is also our enemy. And so, even when a "non combat" troop may supposedly be among friends, he is still potentially surrounded by fatal danger.
This will become exponentially worse, if Assad falls, as rebels will then increasingly turn their fire upon each other -- and any American advising them -- as each group among them fights for power, and to shut others out from gaining any greater influence or power.
In short, there is no such thing as non-combat troops when it comes to Syria. We can try to fool ourselves that any boots on the ground may be there for "non combat operations" or a simple "advisory role," but the truth of the matter is, just being over there constitutes being in a potential combat operation. It constitutes being put into harm's way. Operation New Dawn proved that.
Unfortunately, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed this resolution, and authorized President Obama to deploy tens of thousands of combat troops to Syria, who will face attack, wounds of war, and even death. Whether they did that wittingly or unwittingly may never be known. But, what I do know is that it is now up to the full Senate to recognize this, and make sure that the use-of-force authorization goes no further.