President Obama’s former defense secretary Robert Gates accused the White House on Thursday of “semantic backflips” for refusing to use the word “combat” to describe U.S. troops’ fight against the Islamic State, in the wake of another casualty.

“I think that is incredibly unfortunate not to speak openly about what is going on,” Gates said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

He continued, “American troops are in action. They are being killed, they are in combat and these semantic backflips to avoid using the term ‘combat’ is a disservice to those who are out there putting their lives on the line.”

Gates speculated that the reason for avoiding the term is political, as it fits the narrative that combat operations in Iraq have ended. He said current Defense Secretary Ash Carter acknowledges the troops are in combat, and it’s “unfortunate” the White House can’t do the same.

Carter indeed confirmed earlier this month the military had suffered a “combat death” after Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Charles Keating IV, a Navy SEAL, was killed near Irbil, Iraq by ISIS fire.

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