[pjw] NEWS: Obama Sends Special Operations Forces to Help Fight ISIS in Syria (NY Times 10/31)
Peace and Justice Works
pjw at pjw.info
Sat Oct 31 15:04:45 EDT 2015
So--- this marks an escalation of an existing war. I guess nobody I know
really believed the "no boots on the ground" pledge in the first place,
but I wonder if this announcement is coming because there weren't
mass protests after the death of the American soldier in Iraq last week?
I'm not sure how adding armed foreign forces on the ground will lead to
bolstered diplomatic efforts. I do see that it puts the US soldiers at
risk of being bombed by Turkey or Russia.
I think that since Congress still hasn't formally approved the deployment
of troops beyond 90 days (which would have been, what, last December?) it
may be worth contacting folks with a familiar message:
US OUT OF THE MIDDLE EAST!
peace and justice works iraq affinity group
Obama Sends Special Operations Forces to Help Fight ISIS in Syria
By PETER BAKER, HELENE COOPER and DAVID E. SANGER OCT. 30, 2015
WASHINGTON -- President Obama announced on Friday that he had
ordered several dozen Special Operations troops into Syria for the
first open-ended mission by United States ground forces in that
country, deepening American involvement in a war he has tried to avoid
for more than four years.
While the deployment was small in scale, it was large in importance for
a president who had refused to commit American ground forces inside
Syria beyond quick raids. White House officials said the troops
would advise local forces fighting the Islamic State and not play a
direct combat role, but they left open the possibility of sending more
in the future.
The escalation came just weeks after Russia inserted itself into the
multisided civil war to support President Bashar al-Assad, bombing
opposition forces, including some supported by the United States.
Although not characterized as a response, the dispatch of American
troops further complicates a kaleidoscopic battlefield with varied
forces and sometimes murky allegiances.
The move was meant to bolster diplomatic efforts by Secretary of State
John Kerry, who on Friday reached an agreement in Vienna with countries
with opposing stakes to explore "a nationwide cease-fire" and ask the
United Nations to oversee the revision of the Syrian Constitution and
then new elections. The accord represented the first time all the major
outside participants had agreed on the start of a political process to
bring the war to an end.
But a truce remained elusive and the presidentâs military move was the
latest incremental step into the expanding conflict in Syria and
next-door Iraq. Once intent on just using American airpower to help
local forces on the ground, Mr. Obama has now sent 3,500 American
troops to Iraq. An American soldier was killed in a commando raid
last week, the first such casualty since the fight against the Islamic
State began last year.
The troops heading to Syria will number "fewer than 50," the White
House said, but Pentagon officials said even those numbers would be
useful in coordinating efforts with Kurdish forces. Republicans argued
it was too little and too late to make a meaningful difference, while
some Democrats said it pushed the United States further down a slippery
slope into a hopeless war.
The White House insisted this was not a case of mission creep. "The
mission has not changed," said Josh Earnest, the White House press
secretary. "These forces," he added, "do not have a combat mission."
"The responsibility that they have is not to lead the charge to take a
hill, but rather to offer advice and assistance to those local forces
about the best way they can organize their efforts to take the fight to
ISIL or to take the hill inside of Syria," he said.
But the definition of combat has shifted since the United States last
year began taking on the Islamic State, also called ISIS or ISIL.
In May, Delta Force commandos entered Syria aboard Black Hawk
helicopters and V-22 Ospreys and killed an Islamic State leader and
about a dozen militant fighters. The soldier killed last week was
part of a force accompanying Kurdish commandos on a raid to free
prisoners held by the Islamic State.
In addition to the Special Operations deployment, Mr. Obama authorized
deploying A-10 and F-15 warplanes to Incirlik Air Base in Turkey. The
A-10s are capable of providing close in-air support to fighters on the
ground. The F-15s can carry out a range of air-to-ground combat
Mr. Obama, who spoke with Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi of Iraq on
Friday, instructed advisers to consult the Baghdad government about
establishing a Special Operations task force to further efforts to
target Islamic State leaders there. He also ordered more military
assistance to Jordan and Lebanon.
The Pentagon wants to build a firewall behind forces allied with the
United States -- both the Kurds and the Syrian-Arab coalition backed by
Mr. Obama -- to allow these fighters to hold territory they have
captured. Part of the way to do that, one Defense Department official
said, is to ensure that equipment is delivered and that subsequent
supplies will reach these forces quickly.
The shift represents "a kind of Goldilocks policy -- not too hot and not
too cold," said Aaron David Miller, a vice president with the Woodrow
Wilson International Center for Scholars. "Keep your eye on ISIS, keep
your forces out of Russia's way and yet enhance your profile after
Moscow has raised theirs."
At the moment, officials said there was no plan to send the American
troops beyond a makeshift opposition group headquarters in northern
Syria. They will not patrol or travel with opposition groups.
Officials, though, also said that could change as the situation
warrants. And they said no decision has been made on sending additional
Apache helicopters to Iraq.
The move could potentially put the American troops in the cross hairs
of Russia, which last month began airstrikes on antigovernment forces
in Syria. A senior Pentagon official said the United States had not
informed Moscow about where the American forces will be. "The area
where we are planning to place these special operators is not an area
where they have struck or where they would need to strike," the
official said. "It's not ISIL or regime-controlled."
But given that most Russian airstrikes have been against opposition
groups that are not part of the Islamic State, there is no guarantee
that Moscow may not hit groups in which the American forces are
embedded. That said, Russia has "significant visibility" over what
happens in Syria, the official said, adding that if it becomes
necessary to keep its troops safe the United States will communicate
But Mr. Miller and other foreign policy specialists warned that the
move risked alienating Turkey since it will bring American forces into
an even closer alliance with northern Syria's Kurdish fighters,
including Kurdish People's Protection Units, which have come under
attack from Turkey in recent days.
Derek Chollet, a former assistant defense secretary under Mr. Obama,
said the administration would seek to calm Turkish concern by saying
the move would help protect its interests. "After all, the Turks have
wanted U.S. Special Forces on the ground in Syria for years," he said.
The diplomatic progress reported in Vienna came after seven hours of
heated negotiations, punctuated by sharp exchanges between the foreign
ministers of Iran and Saudi Arabia. But it amounted to more of an
aspiration than a settlement.
Mr. Kerry and the other diplomats set no deadline for either the
cease-fire or a new constitution and election that would follow, and it
remained unclear whether Mr. Assad, who was not invited, or the rebels
seeking to overthrow him will agree. But the diplomats will meet again
in two weeks to expand on the basic principles issued on Friday night,
including a commitment to keep Syria together as a single nation.
Mr. Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergey V. Lavrov, the foreign
minister, announced the results together, but they remained deeply
divided on whether Mr. Assad must step down as part of any final
resolution, as the United States and its European and Persian Gulf
allies have demanded and Russia and Iran have resisted.
"We have no agreement on the destiny of Assad," Mr. Lavrov told
reporters as he sat next to Mr. Kerry. "Russia believes that it is up
to Syrian people to decide within the framework of the political
Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, said Mr. Assadâ's eventual
departure remained a necessity. "As far as we are concerned, we think
that Bashar al-Assad has no place in the future of Syria," he said.
Both Mr. Kerry and Mr. Lavrov said the cease-fire would not apply to
the conflict with Islamic State forces. Mr. Lavrov declined to
criticize, at least publicly, the American decision to send Special
Operations forces to northern Syria. Mr. Kerry told reporters the
timing of the announcement was "a coincidence" and that he was not
aware a decision had been made until earlier Friday.
The two men said they discussed coordination of their attacks beyond
the narrow conversations about avoiding an accidental conflict. "We
have some ideas which we discussed today that I am taking back to
Washington," Mr. Kerry said.
Still, the tensions in Vienna emphasized how difficult it could be to
reach a common understanding. The most heated conversations took place
between Iran's foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, and his Saudi
counterpart, Adel al-Jubeir. Until a few days ago, the Saudis refused
to sit in the same room with the Iranians and they spent much of the
meeting "voicing grievances and accusations," said one official.
Peter Baker and Helene Cooper reported from Washington, and David E.
Sanger from Vienna.
A version of this article appears in print on October 31, 2015, on page
A1 of the New York edition with the headline: U.S. Troops Sent to Syria
to Aid Forces Fighting ISIS
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