Saturday, October 31, 2015

US SF and Syria

I was on TV last night to discuss why the US is sending some Special Forces (the Army guys who are part of the larger SOF community) to Syria and whether this represented mission creep.  People love to bring up mission creep because it is scary.  So much so that it was my costume last year:
The sign says Op Enduring Mission

After all, what can 50 or so SF guys (not yet gender-integrated) can do?  Well, 100 or so helped to bring down the Taliban with heaps of air support and allies on the ground, but Assad ISIS has proven to be a bit more robust.  So, here are some random thoughts about this:
  • The coalition bombing campaign (unlike the Russian one) has been constrained by the limited ability to discern ISIS targets from civilians and from local allies.  So, having eyes on the ground could help provide better targeting information (even though, yes, recent events in Afghanistan indicate this is not perfect).  
  • The local allies may be more focused on Assad and his allies and less on ISIS given that the Syrian government forces have been far more destructive, killing more civilians, than ISIS.  For them, ISIS might very well be the lesser of two evils.  It may be that the 50 SF guys might be willing to be the force multipliers that they are only when the targets are ISIS.
  • Perhaps this is an effort to respond to the Russian bombing campaign--that the Russians will now have to consider whether they can target the anti-regime forces since they might have Americans sprinkled among them.  Same for the Turks as they have been bombing our Kurdish allies.
  • Maybe the Obama government just was worn down by the "do more" crowd at home.  Not sure why this would be the case since Obama has a year left and does not care that much about the escalation crowd.  
What effect will this have?  I have no idea.  It probably will improve the performance of our local allies, but as I keep reminding folks--the people on the ground have their own interests and incentives.  The Russians are learning that now in Ukraine and in Syria.  We should have learned it by now in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Indeed, I am pretty sure Obama's hesitancy on all of this has much to do with this exact problem--that the people on the ground will do their own bidding, not his.

I am not all that hopeful about negotiations since none of the local actors were involved.  And I just don't see Assad stepping down just because the Russians might want to move on.  That would be swell, but also not sure it would fix much.  Anyhow, it is unlikely. 

So, the best answers to give to the media are: I don't know, maybe, and Happy Halloween.

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