Technically, even the advisory troops spotted alongside Kurdish militias in Syria aren’t in a combat role. But, as Maj. Gen. Clay Hutmacher, the deputy commanding general of Army Special Operations, told BuzzFeed in April, "Anytime a soldier is deployed there are risks associated with operating in foreign lands. I don’t want to minimize risk associated to the deployment of soldiers around the world." But, he stressed, U.S. troops are not engaged in "combat operations" against ISIS.
By the Pentagon’s definition that's true: U.S. troops aren’t on a "combat mission." But that doesn’t mean they won’t find themselves in combat scenarios. Three U.S. soldiers have died fighting ISIS: U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. Louis Cardin, 27; Navy SEAL Petty Officer 1st class Charles Keating IV, 31; and Army Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler, 39. All three men were killed in Iraq.
“That's a kind of circumstance we regret, but you can't say it's not a circumstance that cannot be expected in a circumstance where you have a dynamic battlefield, and we are participants in this,” Secretary Carter said when pressed why Keating was killed in combat, even when he was supposedly not on the “front line." Whatever that is.