“The American combat mission in Iraq has ended,” President Obama told the nation Tuesday night, but the 50,000 U.S. troops still on the ground there will continue to pocket combat pay of up to $680 a month. The troops are going to spend most of their time over the next 16 months training Iraqi security forces to fight. But in reality they’re combat units with some additional trainers and advisers tacked on. It’s a reminder that rhetoric and reality don’t always mesh as neatly as Oval Office words might suggest.
According to a Pentagon official, hostile fire, imminent danger and hardship-duty pays will continue. That and their regular pay will continue to be tax-exempt for enlisted troops and officers making less than $7,611.30 a month ($91,000 a year). The decision to give troops serving in Iraq combat pay is nearly 20 years old. Hard to believe, but it’s the result of an executive order — signed by the first President Bush — on the eve of the first Gulf War in January 1991.