Aug 3, 2015
Late last night the White House issued a change in its Syrian War rules of engagement. Now it looks like the US will be committing military forces to protect anti-ISIS and anti-Assad forces in Northern Syria. The change will affect the Department of Defense’s newly trained moderate Islamic rebels inside Syria who are fighting a myriad of terrorist groups trying to bring down the Syrian regime under President Bashar al-Assad.
“We view the Syrian forces trained and equipped by the Department of Defense as partners in the counter ISIL/ISIS effort,” according to Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon Spokesman. “These forces are being provided with a wide range of coalition support in their mission to counter ISIL/ISIS, which includes defensive fire support to protect them.”
Doctrinally, once the US military has achieved air superiority, they use attack helicopters, armor, and artillery to defend ground troops.
However, the new development doesn’t come without risk. The use of air based ground support opens up air assets to shoulder fire missiles (MANPADs), RPG fire, as well as small weapons fire.
In a statement from White House National Security Council spokesman Alistair Baskey said, the US will only assist US-trained forces. The help includes “defensive fire support to protect them. We won’t get into the specifics of our rules of engagement, but have said all along that we would take the steps necessary to ensure that these forces could successfully carry out their mission.”
The Pentagon had a slightly different take on the new rules of engagement (ROE) in Syria. Until Sunday night the ROE’s were to engage ISIS and leave President al-Assad’s forces alone. “We recognize, though, that many of these groups now fight on multiple fronts, including against the Assad regime, (Islamic State) and other terrorists,” Pentagon spokeswoman Commander Elissa Smith said.
The move comes after the Pentagon confirmed that US-trained fighters were ambushed and killed by al-Nusra Front/al-Qaeda terrorists near their Syrian headquarters. The Pentagon reminded reporters that the new recruits have been explicitly directed not to fight against the al-Assad regime unless they are attacked first.
But, with a dozen or so terrorist groups operating inside Syria can anyone really confirm if any of the fighters are good or bad guys? Retired Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer said, “It is chaos. The only groups we are recommending are the Kurds.” And the Kurds have come under relentless attack from Turkish President Recep Erdogan after the Turks agreed to allow US planes to use their strategic military bases near the Syrian border last week.
The question now becomes, how will the US control the escalation of US forces into the war theater since current US doctrine requires engaging the enemy without exposing troops to direct conflict with ISIS, al-Qaeda, Syrian, Kurds, and even Turks?
Equally important is that lawmakers have not authorized war powers in Syria, which sets-up a potential showdown on Capitol Hill after Congress returns from its five-week break. Last time that topic was argued on Capitol Hill the American people rose up and squashed US intervention in the Syrian War in an overwhelming fashion (story here).
Make no mistake this latest action jeopardizes the expansion of US involvement in Syria and Turkey without a war authorization act.
“Obama is doing now what’s he’s done thus far. He’s doing only enough to silence his critics and to convey the impression of U.S. action when, in reality, there is none,” Retired Army Colonel Douglas Macgregor, a decorated combat veteran, a Ph.D. and the author of five books on military affairs described.
The alleged “moderate Sunni Muslim Force” in Syria is estimated to be 54 “reliable” men with rifles, if that. “In the foreseeable future offensive operations by these elements against the Assad Regime are unlikely. If these moderates attempted offensive operations against the Assad Regime they would require massive air strikes to support them. If we opted to do this we would end up assisting Erdogan to install a Sunni-Islamist regime in Damascus allied with the Turks,” Macgregor explained.
“The security implications of this action for Israel are obvious and ominous. In addition, a deliberate air campaign against the Assad Regime could also trigger Russian intervention to support Damascus with potent air defense technology, as well as, selected ground forces. That would be a game changer. US air power would be at severe risk of being shot down with all that being shot down entails including US pilots falling into Assad’s hands,” he concluded.
Adding to the complexity of the Middle East quagmire is a statement made by the Navy that they will not have an aircraft carrier in the Gulf for two months in the fall of 2015. “Without that carrier there will be a detriment in our capabilities there,” Adm. John Richardson testified at a Senate Armed-Services hearing last week. The Navy Times first reported the lengthy carrier gap in the Gulf in June. If true, this makes President Obama’s new rules of engagement in Syria appear more political and not plausible under US military operations.
Another point to keep in mind is that the US failed to come to the aid of Americans in Benghazi, Libya in a timely manner. Are Americans to believe President Obama will now commit US forces to Northern Syria without search and recovery (SAR), logistic and medical support, as well as sufficient force to protect our recently trained proxy fighters?
Obama’s move highlights amateurish policies
Meanwhile at a July 7 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) that “current rules of engagement still would prohibit US effort to support US-trained anti-ISIL fighters in Syria if they come under attack by the Assad regime.”
He was joined by fellow Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) illustrating the administration’s fuzzy war footing and suggested the US would not guaranty protection.
In fact Congress has not weighed in on the expanded “war on terror.” However the Nobel Peace Prize winner, President Obama, released his explanation for its authority to wage war in Syria.
“I have directed a comprehensive and sustained strategy to degrade and defeat ISIL. As part of this strategy, U.S. military forces are conducting a systematic campaign of airstrikes against ISIL in Iraq and Syria. Although existing statutes provide me with the authority I need to take these actions, I have repeatedly expressed my commitment to working with the Congress to pass a bipartisan authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) against ISIL/ISIS. Consistent with this commitment, I am submitting a draft AUMF that would authorize the continued use of military force to degrade and defeat ISIL,” a White House statement read.
Also questioning the Commander in Chief’s authority was Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), he has been asking for a US-enforced humanitarian zone in Syria. His spokesman, Ben Marter, told Defense One “that while the ISIS fight is based on the original AUMFs passed in 2001 and 2002, the senator had also voted for a limited AUMF against Assad for his use of chemical weapons, and ‘felt these should be updated.’”
So far the lame duck President hasn’t pressured lawmakers to act, nor has Congress asserted its constitutionally duty to authorize the use of military force.
© Copyright 2015 Kimberly Dvorak All Rights Reserved.