Ben Rhodes: US Ground Troops 'Will Not Be in a Combat Role'

The deputy national security advisor says troops are in Iraq temporarily to decide what actions are necessary to remove stranded people.
14:01 | 08/13/14

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Transcript for Ben Rhodes: US Ground Troops 'Will Not Be in a Combat Role'
-- personnel are not going to be in a combat role. In Iraq they're there on a temporary basis to make assessments about how to get in the population up that mountain. This -- be a humanitarian effort again to get them to -- space their range of ways for doing that. We have made decisions about how to carry out. That mission because we want to get. The readout from this assessment team first. Deputy national security advisor Ben rose -- in the public on the new US military mission in Iraq rose insisted again. That President Obama has no plans will not consider will not authorize. Any new combat operations on the ground. Look when I'm down Cutler in New York the -- from above though very much -- White House saying that seven airstrikes targeting -- militants have been carried out. And there are more on the way with the latest on the new group of Americans in -- -- wanna bring in ABC's Karen Travers in Washington Karen. It happening again the word of the day seems to be assessment you heard at the White House briefing they were trying and the -- that that is what he's a 130. New US troops will be doing in Northern Iraq assessing the situation first trying to determine. How many easy -- are still on that mountain and once they figure that out -- the focus can shift to what type of operation can best ease the crisis. A pentagon official would not say what the deadline is for this assessment to be completed but said of course time is of the essence. A US military team is now in Northern Iraq. Has the Obama administration weighs its options for a potential rescue mission -- -- 130 person out there there. On a temporary basis to make assessments. About how to get the population up that mountain. This team made up of Marines and special forces arrived interview yesterday to investigate how many people are still on the mountain. He could there be -- wait for the US military to get some off despite the clear risks with such a rescue mission. The Obama administration insists this is not -- return to war this is not -- combat boots on the ground operation. Up to 30000. People may still be stranded on the mountain trapped by -- forces and conditions are still dangerous and dire. ABC's Mohammed Leland -- to the front line of the battle between Kurdish forces and crisis. You can see. A trench being dug over here on our side of the -- are Kurdish troops -- called -- -- And they're holding their ground on the other side of that trench just over that -- there's a village inside that village are -- -- fighters. Last night the US military conducted six humanitarian aid drop on the mountain range. UN aid workers say about 121000 refugees have sought shelter in -- camp in Syria just over the Northern Iraq border. So trying to mobilize the resources about the -- cut to the spokesman. It's -- -- smoke goes on. UN officials say that the population of that refugee camp in Syria could swell to 150000. People and so -- congress is out hot summer break but have we been hearing. The house and senate leaders are backing the president has plans mother not complaining -- so essentially that means they are backing the White House at this point -- compare -- to last summer around this time when the White House was considering airstrikes or some sort of operation in Syria. And you certainly heard a lot from members of congress this is very different -- had members of congress like John McCain Lindsey Graham mountains say that perhaps the US should even be doing more. But so far it seems that congress is behind the president but as you pointed out -- back home there on summer vacation -- see what the situation is -- a couple of weeks. If this is still ongoing wants congress comes back to town. Of course and always looming in the back of -- mid term elections coming up as well ABC's Karen Travers in Washington Karen thank you for that. A wanna go now -- the Pentagon or ABC's -- Martinez standing by -- with a White House have they or the Pentagon discuss the rules of engagement for these Americans that are on the ground. Well we're not quite. There yet -- -- Karen said in her report that can key word here is assessment. And his team that's there are -- has to figure out precisely how many people are actually on -- mountain your can reference number 30000. That's not Italians in the number that they're going -- depending on other going with this and number thousands. They say there are reports of tens of thousands -- -- got to figure out precisely how many people are fair. And then that's going to determine the number of -- that they can the US and its international partners to bring to bear. In helping alleviate this humanitarian crisis there. Now once we're there because this is going to be a hostile. Fire -- area obviously I you've got -- ice is fighters at the that the base of the mountain they're the ones that are menacing. These refugees are stuck on the -- You've got to get aircraft potentially maybe you create a -- quarter you've got to determine. What. What you're -- -- do and one of one and one thing that is for certain. Is that American troops always have what they call the right of self defense. So if they're attacked they're gonna fight back regardless of whatever the rules of engagement are. So trying to determine the numbers but what else is being consider as a factor and who exactly is doing the assessment of this. While the assessment team is about a 129. Military personnel. We found out today that about eighty of them armed Marines they flew in on those marine. Tilt rotor aircraft known -- between two ospreys. Those aircraft are gonna remain -- in the rest of the personnel are special operations forces -- -- from various services though there are working together. To come up with an assessment of what -- you what the situation is on the ground. -- especially on the mountain. What they can do and what kind of forces might be needed by the United States to help alleviate -- crisis there. Our chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl is in Martha's Vineyard with the president vacationing right now. Earlier today he attended a briefing with the deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes and he asked roads this question. It is the president will at least -- -- -- Iraq is really to consider the option of sending. A certain number of troops -- the voters African something like -- For Ted Gunderson courses or. Well we haven't made that a decision at this point John we -- to. See what the circumstances are see what options are available for moving. Those people who are trapped on the -- We obviously have not just US personnel who could potentially be engaged and that type of effort. We have Kurdish forces who are engaged in the area. With IS IL. -- international partners who also want to support. That provision of humanitarian assistance. I'm so we'll look at what the best way in the safest way is to get those people off that mountain and the presently making decisions after he hears back. From the military about what they found on the ground there in Iraq. Jonathan asked that question -- a couple of different ways to lose a good base and -- that response there what is your sense of that plan going forward. Well I think the president has already said that he's going to help. With -- this humanitarian crisis. He did that initially through the air -- he -- -- through the air strikes because they're targeting those -- -- fighters on the base of the mountain editor are threatening the yes he refugees and on it. So the next step is -- if they're still trapped -- you get them out of there. He said no combat troops know. Boots on the ground. You've heard that repeatedly both from him and other senior members of the administration it's gonna come down to semantics. Because you want you can send American troops on humanitarian mission. Which he's already authorized with the air strikes and when it. The the air drops so if you are gonna -- -- if you do see Americans on the ground helping to create. This city court or I'm certain that they're gonna use the language -- the that did these forces are there on humanitarian mission and not a combat operation. Because if you read between lines and that's what they've been saying that American troops -- not going into Iraq on a combat missions like we saw before. So what's the other alternative a humanitarian mission I think that's how you might be seeing mislabeled. And and that's how they would get around this boots on the ground restriction give me up to speed on what's happening in Baghdad specifically the Iraqi Government who is running the show right now. Well we got the scenario where he still of prime minister and Malick he -- de facto power because the president -- -- -- presidents are ready named. W Tea Party seem to be the new prime minister to have him form a government so it's kind of it. A transition -- situation right now and -- know that today it's kind of unclear specifically what -- he's going to do you get one day you hear what positive message that -- can allow this could take place another day get a -- more -- message so it's it's still unclear. But either way United States that -- we keep seeing these read -- from Vice President Biden calling senior leaders in Iraq. -- Kirk on the ground inside -- -- -- senior State Department official there he's maintaining contacts with senior Iraqi political government. Officials because they want to maintain those lines of communication. Because ultimately the united the united states -- its gonna -- with the international partners up there is gonna need Iraqi Government approval. And assistance. Just a couple of -- that the president had interview with the New York Times and he spoke about his attitude toward the region and this is some of what that interview had. I'll give you an example of a lesson I had to learn that -- applications and that is -- participation in the coalition that overthrew Gadhafi in Libya. I actually believe that it was the right thing to do and we Geithner being it's likely that Libya would be Syria. Note -- looking back now that operation was much like this one originally pegged as humanitarian intervention. Does this suggest to -- or the folks -- your talking to at the Pentagon there -- an openness to potential that this mission. -- in the. I think that every trying to get -- his mission creep and whether this can be extended beyond. An initial humanitarian effort. And and they're trying to avoid that by army said he is tight -- how this is a limited humanitarian air drop situation. The air strikes themselves -- they are in -- combat operations because you're taking out. Ice is fighters who are threatening than the disease on a mountain. Or who are advancing -- deal the president said that those personnel and those accrediting being used to protect American lives in -- deal. Com and also to alleviate the C situation. But then that's what they're they're four -- And that's what we're hearing that -- there has been no expansion of the mission beyond that if he goes into a later broader humanitarian mission. To create this -- quarter for the -- That you see a phrase like that they always point to the situation. In -- the operation in Libya a couple of years ago because I was a broad international effort. And it did ultimately -- in the end yet rationales given back then as well was that it was can alleviate the potential romantic fare. The humanitarian crisis. I think it's still too soon to see whether they'll be able Q maintained that the -- on mission creep. But this it's a good development in many different ways we still have ways to go on. And on those efforts by the Iraqi forces earlier today in Iraqi military chopper crashed on -- -- mountain. -- on the attempts of -- backwards -- those refugees are fleeing -- do we know how this chopper went down. Well the initial indication. -- that it was not enemy fire that we know that there are any forces there on the ground these ice -- fighters at the base. And we heard today from Japan officially we -- -- it fairly certain that these ice his fighters do not have anti aircraft. Capability that would mean like the shoulder fired missiles. That could be aimed at and -- low flying aircraft. Potentially involved in a rescue mission the based on the fact that the United States is not provided that with the -- man -- capability to the Iraqi Security Forces we know the ice -- fighters. Got -- of them got their hands on some of that equipment but not specifically this because it was never provided to them. But. Helicopters what -- called rotary aircraft. Are susceptible to small arms fire we've seen a couple of occurrences. In Iraq and in Afghanistan where things such as a rocket propelled grenade. And with a lucky strike -- able to bring down some helicopters with tragic consequences. It whatever forces are brought in to assist in this humanitarian. Relief effort. That they're gonna face some tough times because it they are going to be entering hostile areas. And they need to be on the wind tunnels -- -- four potential attacks. May not necessarily come in the form. A -- a -- of an antiaircraft weapon but -- RPG comparing it helicopter down. -- easily to do we know this is an example if there were US involvement. Can you know coordinating this for signing off on this kind of emission. Well we've been told is that so far this is an Iraqi led mission in terms of the -- small numbers of Iraqi. Air force helicopters. Landing on the mountain where you've seen the video. Where they -- packages relief supplies in -- very quickly it's a very chaotic situation. Where you see. Some of these diseases boarding the helicopter and then taking off we've been told here that the Americans do not have any role in this. That this is strictly an Iraqi led operation when it comes to that. But he's seen that chaotic situation developed there. That is obviously one of the things that these assessment planners have to look at they want to make sure that you would a scenario like that. Because if you have a situation where either American or other natural helicopters arrived. To take these individuals off the mountain you and make sure it's done in a safe and orderly process and that's what these matters -- -- to do. Be sure they can figure out how to do that if it comes to that ABC's -- Martinez at the Pentagon for us -- thank you for that appreciate I was always. And of course you can keep up with the story in real time by downloading ABC news -- star in the -- for exclusive updates on the go. For now and then -- New York.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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