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Eli Lake and Josh Rogin

New U.S. Combat Mission in Iraq Is Not New

Special operations forces have been fighting Islamic State on the ground for months.
The defense secretary signals a shift. Sort of.

The defense secretary signals a shift. Sort of.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer

When Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced Tuesday that the U.S. would begin "direct action" against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq, it sounded like a new mission for U.S. forces in a country where the president has repeatedly insisted Americans would not be engaged in combat operations. 

But America's special operations forces have been engaging in these kinds of missions for several months, particularly in the Kurdish-controlled provinces in northern Iraq. And the special operations forces have already built up an extensive infrastructure to support these activities. This casts doubt on the official Pentagon statements that last week’s raid was “a unique circumstance.”