ISIL Endgame: Obama to send 250 more US Troops into Syria

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

President Obama is announcing Monday morning in Hanover, Germany, that he will send another 250 US troops, likely mostly special operations, into Syria, bringing the total to 300.

The 50 troops already there are embedded with the YPG or People’s Defense Units of the leftist Democratic Union Party in Syria’s Kurdish region of Rojava. They in turn are allied with local Sunni Arab tribal levies in a struggle against Daesh (ISIS, ISIL).

The Kurdish forces in the SDF far vastly outnumber the Arab ones, which is a political problem. Obama and his Secretary of Defense, Ash Carter, want the joint Kurdish/ Arab forces, which they support with arms and money and which they have dubbed the “Syrian Democratic Forces” (SDF), to take al-Raqqa in eastern Syria, which is the capital of Daesh and the seat of its self-proclaimed “caliph,” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

That Obama is focusing on this Kurdish-Arab coalition is a further slap in the face to Saudi Arabia and Turkey, who are backing hard line far-right Salafi groups like the Freemen of Syria in the Aleppo area, who have been attacked by the Arab/Kurdish SDF, which is to their left.

As for the US embeds, we’re talking about the country’s northeast theater, the yellow part in this tweeted map:

The Arab press is pointing out that the further US troops are targeting Daesh and are not intended to be used to help overthrow the regime of Bashar al-Assad. In general, the YPG has been willing to ally with the al-Assad garrisons against Daesh, though this past weekend there were YPG/ Syrian Army clashes in the Kurdish city of Qamishli in the northeast.

The Arab coalition in the northeast consists of only a few thousand troops, whereas the total for the SDF is some 50,000. My guess is that the Arabs comprise about ten percent. (There are also Christian militias– Assyrian and Armenian– in the SDF coalition, and more than one unit of the old ‘Free Syrian Army.’) In the past few months, new small Arab units have joined the SDF, including Division 19, the Eagles of the Desert, and a unit from the city of al-Shadadi, which the SDF liberated from Daesh in mid-February.

If a largely lefist Kurdish force goes down and crushes a Sunni Arab city like al-Raqqa, that step might produce further ethnic tension and be seen as illegitimate. So the Self Defense Forces need a bigger Sunni Arab contingent fighting alongside the YPG. Likewise, frankly the YPG’s top priority is not going south to fight Daesh in al-Raqqa but going due west to capture all the territory possible for the Kurdish federal province, Rojava, that it can.

CNN reported over the weekend that the extra 250 troops are for embedding with the Arabs in the SDF, and with getting the Arab fighters in SDF up to speed (so likely some will be trainers rather than spec ops advisers).

By increasing the strenght of the Arab contingent within the SDF, Obama appears to be readying the locals for an al-Raqqa campaignt that is intended to rub out the so-called ‘caliphate.’

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Related video:

CNN: “President Obama to send more special ops to Syria”

15 Responses

  1. He announces this while in Germany. Much as he announced the attack on Libya practically while waving on this way to the helicopter that would take him to Brazil. No need for Congress to be involved. No need to justify to the American people. In some things he is constrained by Congress, in some things not at all.

    • While I oppose this move, the last time Obama asked for Congressional direction on Syria, they didn’t want to touch it with a 10 foot pole. Also, he submitted a renewal of the Authorization to Use Force Resolution over a year ago and Congress doesn’t want to even debate that. I think this is all political. The Republicans don’t want to do anything in Congress because then they have to make a decision and either support the President or don’t support him and then open themselves up the the charge that they aren’t willing to fight ISIS. I suspect Obama is doing this so that before the election he can further degrade ISIS and, more importantly, degrade the GOP arguments that he’s not doing enough to fight ISIS. The Republicans want to not take a stand one way or another and then complain that Obama is weak on terrorism.

      • The minimalist-aggression hypothesis is interesting. But there is also the matter of installing a Tripwire force, as Eisenhower did in Vietnam and Kennedy was led to expand. US casualties are used to lead the US public to war, and that would make Turkey reluctant to attack YPG/Rojava, which might tend to isolate Daesh/ISIL from suppliers in Turkey.

        • The “tripwire force” IIRC was not vietnam but south korea and europe which was meant to trigger us involvement in the case of an invasion by communists i.e. the Nork’s and Soviets respectively.
          Your ‘US Casualties leads to greater us involvement’ theory seems to be contradicted by reality that the US is operating in a very casualty averse way. In addition, the republicans clearly want to have it both ways: they criticize obama for not doing enough, but are not willing to advocate for large troop numbers for a US led ground deployment.
          Also I would not describe gary’s or bob’s comments as a “minimalist-aggression hypothesis”, Gary describes the republicans as the ‘nattering nabobs of negativity’ who don’t’ want any responsibility except to later be able to constantly make bullshit complaints.
          Bob’s complaint seems to be that there is obama is not flag waving, war mongering, or carrier landing/mission accomplished moments and instead obama is downplaying the conflict. Bob’s comment is free of substance.

  2. How can the American public rally behind our forces being deployed into a war zone that includes the YPG, SDF, Kurds, Sunni Arabs, Christian, Assyrian, Armenians and the Syrian army? In that this country recently spent hundreds of millions of dollars to build a fighting force in that region, which produced 5 fighting soldiers, I would not want to see our young men sacrificed in a war that has no end game.

  3. I’ve been saying from the beginning we should stay out of Syria. If Obama wants to fight ISIS, he should do more to help Iraq take Mosul, even if that means allowing more Iranian support.

    • Another issue that should be addressed is the potential of the U.S. Armed Forces confronting Syrian Arab Army – or worse – Russian soldiers which could provoke a major international incident.

      The precedent of Turkey shooting down a Russian jet already exists and the proliferation of U.S. Special Forces troops in combat situations increases the likelihood of confrontation – especially if the U.S does not coordinate its troop movements with the Syrian government and the Kremlin.

  4. I wonder if any one else sees the irony of a noble peace laureate from the lone super power asking other Sunni countries (presumably, SA, Jordan, UAE, Qatar et al) to join the USA in invading another country!!

    IMHO, this is all about another attempt by Obama to try and cut-off the land route from Iran to Lebanon/Hezbollah in support of Israel/ SA / Egypt axis.

    After all he is going to need a lot of money once he retires from the presidency to one up Bill Clinton. This is the best motive I have been able to come up with…it is certainly NOT humanitarian (else what is he doing in Yemen and also funding Al-Qaeda in Syria).

    • A report over the weekend described talks between the President and King Salman of SA as clearing the air. That means they argued a lot. The Saudis are unhappy with Obama because of the Iran deal and he has made it clear he’s not too pleased with them. The Saudis have threatened retaliation over a 9/11 bill in Congress, relations are at a low point right now. It is an election year. Obama knows that if the Republicans take the White House they will undo almost everything he has done. This is to give cover to the right flank of the Democratic nominee, IMHO. It’s politics. There have been many books written on how internal politics influence foreign policy. He will be able to make plenty of money if he wants to and won’t need any from any foreign power. A memoir will bring him probably at least $5 million. No president in the last 100 years has died in poverty.

      • Do you think, that by Obama’s upsetting the Saudi’s, that his actions may increase Hillary’s campaign contributions? If that is what you are suggesting, then I would say to you, how that does make political sense. I guess that ex-presidents need to eat…so, why not!

      • “A memoir will bring him probably at least $5 million. No president in the last 100 years has died in poverty.”

        Do not disagree about dying in poverty….but I suspect Mr Obama has bigger goals…one has to look at the Clinton foundation as a model; afraid $5M is peanuts in the scheme of things.

  5. The U.S. seems to thrive on helping create human disasters. Bush, Cheney then to Obama/Clinton and it continues. Terribly shameful…

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