After repeated assurances that the U.S. military would not put “boots on the ground” to support the rebellion against Libyan dictator Muamar Gaddafi, a top military spokesman announced Monday that four American service members are on the ground in Tripoli.
But they aren’t there to lead the fight against Gaddafi. The military personnel are part of a State Department-led team that is assessing the U.S. Embassy to determine how and when the badly trashed facility might be reopened, said Navy Capt. John Kirby, spokesman for Joint Chiefs chairman Adm. Michael Mullen.
Kirby insisted the troops’ presence does not change the U.S. military mission in Libya, which is solely to provide air support to NATO’s operations that claim to be preventing attacks on unarmed Libyans, but clearly has become an all-out drive to remove Gaddafi from power.
The Pentagon press corps, of course, could not resist a few jabs at this minor revelation. Were the military folks wearing athletic shoes to avoid a breach of defense officials’ repeated vows of “no boots on the ground”? Kirby wouldn’t bite on the soft shoes suggestion but stressed that the troops were under State Department control, were involved only in examining the embassy and would leave when the diplomatic team departed.
Kirby would not identify the troops’ service but said two were explosive ordnance disposal specialists, presumably to help clear the grounds of any booby traps or unexploded shells.
At the same meeting with reporters, Pentagon spokesman George Little said Defense Secretary Leon Panetta would lunch with national intelligence director James Clapper, newly installed CIA Director David Petraeus and with Michael Vickers, the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence. Little said the session was intended to ensure continued close cooperation between the intelligence services and the military. Given how long ago Petraeus shed his uniform and Panetta left the CIA, it shouldn’t be much of a stretch.