Editorial: American troops in Libya deserve gratitude

Esteban Diaz | Editorial Cartoonist
Esteban Diaz | Editorial Cartoonist

On Oct. 21, President Barack Obama announced the end of the war in Iraq.

In his speech, he promised the American people that the rest of the troops would be home by the holiday season and that they will receive “the care, the benefits and the opportunities that they have earned.”

The only proper response to such an announcement is one of joy and relief for friends and loved ones overseas. For some, however, the announcement was bittersweet as it followed on the heels of another speech Obama gave, in which he discounts the service of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit and four members of a State Department team.

That speech was given on Oct. 20, and it was Obama’s remarks on the death of Moammar Gadhafi. Toward the end of his address, Obama said “without putting a single U.S. service member on the ground, we achieved our objectives… .”

This would be a wonderful statement, if it were true. Unfortunately, however, there have been boots on the ground in Libya in two instances.

The first was during the extraction of a U.S. Air Force pilot downed in Libya. A March 22 article on the U.S. Marine Corps website said a Marine aircraft responded to the crash, extracting the pilot within 90 minutes. The recovery force was composed of seven Marine units.

The four U.S. military members restoring the U.S. Embassy in Libya, as reported in September by USA Today, should also have been recognized as boots on the ground. Some have argued that these troops were technically on American soil because they worked in the American Embassy.

Contrary to popular belief, American embassies do not sit on American soil.

According to the Extraterritorial Issues bulletin of the United States Department of Justice Executive Offices for United States Attorneys, the premises of U.S. diplomatic or consular mission in foreign states fall under “special territorial jurisdiction” but are extraterritorial to the United States. Regardless of this distinction, it is naïve to assume that troops working to restore an embassy would never have left its boundaries.

Seven Marine units and four State Department team members add up to 11 service members Obama seems to have forgotten. Though this is an unacceptable oversight, the indignation it caused highlights the pride Americans have in their military.

Whether or not the war in Iraq was justified, the troops coming home this month and next deserve our highest respect and thanks.

And for those members of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit and troops who restored the American embassy in Libya, we thank you, even if Obama did not.