Senior National Security Advisers urge Obama to put Spec Ops Troops close to ISIL Front

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Missy Ryan and Greg Jaffe at the Washington Post reveal that President Obama’s senior national security advisers have recommended positioning US special operations forces closer to the enemy lines of Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) in Iraq and even in Syria.

Apparently it is felt that Iraqi troops would benefit from having stronger nearby, in-field tactical support from US Navy Seals, Green Berets and other special operations units. Likewise, their presence and guidance might help the “Democratic Forces of Syria” in their fight attempt to take Raqqa, the capital of Daesh. (The lead element in the Democratic Forces of Syria is the Kurdish Self Protection Units or YPG).

These advisers clearly feel that US allies on the ground against Daesh lack the tactical skills to make real progress against the brutal terrorist organization on their own.

Washington is also getting a great deal of pressure from Iraqis. Anti-Daesh Sunnis in al-Anbar Province are said to be astonished that the US and Baghdad, after the fall Tikrit and some successes in villages outside Ramadi, have just allowed Daesh to regroup and reimpose itself on the local population.

Obviously, moving US troops closer to the front in this way and having them in the field risks casualties.

And, putting US troops on the ground in northeastern Syria is illegal in international law. There is no United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing the use of deadly force in Syria, and the Syrian government isn’t asking for US troops (though the Syrian foreign minister has verbally given his blessing to US bombing of Daesh, so maybe he would not actually mind US special operations forces if they were deployed to overthrow Daesh in Raqqa.)

The big danger here is escalation. The special operations forces are being moved to the front out of frustration that American allies on the ground seem unable to make substantial progress against Daesh, which is increasingly ensconced among some 3 or 4 million people (the press estimates of 9 million living under Daesh don’t take account all the people who have fled their rule).

But what if this doesn’t work, either? Won’t the number of special operations troops have to be increased? And maybe in the end you need US infantry? And then, boom, you have a big American army in Iraq and Syria again.

It is even worse, because the mostly likely outcome is that the US will help Shiites take the Sunni city of Mosul and will help Kurds take the Arab city of Raqqa. Iraqi and Syrian Sunni Muslims will never forgive the US if that scenario plays out, and will have a strong motive to attack the US and its troops. Daesh waged a guerrilla war against US presence in Iraq 2004-2011, and it can just go back into that mode.

WaPo suggests that this move is partly about Secretary of Defense Ash Carter’s legacy, more likely to be secured with bold action. Yes, that is what Robert S. McNamara thought, too.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

ODN: “Iraq rescue: video shows US prison raid freeing 70 hostages from Isis”

13 Responses

  1. They are apparently still ‘deliberations’ and will probably stay that way. My reading is Obama is slipping his hand under Putin’s blanket while seeking to appear to be busily engaged in something quite other.

  2. in the meantime, Turkish troops have attacked YPG positions IN Syria. What one member of NATO does is undone by another. It would serve USA interests to convince its Turkish allies to limit themselves to attack PKK IN Turkey, rather than risk sending troops to Syria and Iraq.

  3. The US has decided to bomb Syria without an invitation or a Security Council Resolution. That makes it as illegal under international law as the Iraq invasion.

    The Syrians found themselves in the same positon as anyone who finds their home invaded by armed thugs – best to acquiesce to their presence lest you further irritate them Especially if some factions amongst the thugs are openly advocating shooting the homeowner.

    The Russians are there now – if the foreign minister reversed his blessing, would the Western coalition obediently withdraw?

    As for the special ops – the press after initial scathing remarks on Russian military ineptitude have now gone quiet. Could it be the pressure is on the US to match Russian success?

  4. We’ve seen the maps of Syria with large areas occupied by ISIS. If the US can defeat/dislodge them, what then?

    The Petraeus-McCain-Condi Rice ‘clear, hold, & build’ strategy that worked so well in Iraq? and after that, what then?

  5. If nothing else this plan should be more cost-effective than the recently closed $500 million training of five Syrian fighters. That is, if we don’t factor in the costs of escalation. Who knows what they will be?

  6. Juan,

    What I like reading in your comments is not only your often different perspective and your years of knowledge, but that you always remind us of the religious and tribal factors that must be taken into consideration with everything in the Middle East.

    Many in the U.S. just want to simply ramp-up America’s military involvement in the region, but they fail to understand what that means in terms of who America is attacking and supporting (Shia and/or Sunni) and what that would mean to the broader religious populations.

  7. Don’t think Syrian Arab Sunnis will be as upset with the US as their Iraqi Sunni counterparts if the Kurds roll in Raqqa as compared to Shiites rolling into Mosul. Greater religious animosity in Iraq than there is ethnic animosity in Syria, I think at least from what I read in regards to their attitudes to different groups like Kurds compared to Shiites…

  8. Proposed “imbedded” special-ops are also to be engaged as “human shields” to contra current Russian attacks on US-backed rebels.

    • I doubt that there would be any hesitation on side of the RuAF when it comes to bombing us soldiers meddling with AlSham, Nusra, AQ and their affiliates. Rather then shielding those “moderate” groups it would make them a target of special interest, because it’s a perfect pretense for bombing us soldiers without officially targeting them. On the other hand, if the US really want a big war, they might get it this way, who needs WMD anyways?

  9. It’s more than “advise.” TV news shows Carter telling Congress we will. Of course, they aren’t soldiers, they are “special ops.” And it isn’t combat, it’s “direct action.” It seems to me that Obama should be the one announcing this to Congress, and Congress should be debating and authorizing it. It’s another way in which our democratic republican governance has devolved into something else. Of course, the politicians all want to run away from accountability. If no one can make them be accountable, this generation of pols won’t volunteer for that.

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