[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:

--dan h
peace and justice works iraq affinity group

Obama Sends Special Operations Forces to Help Fight ISIS in Syria

    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 president’s 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 [24]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 [27]killed an Islamic State leader and
    about a dozen militant fighters. [28]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
    with Moscow.

    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

24. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/23/world/middleeast/us-commandos-iraq-isis.html
   27. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/17/world/middleeast/abu-sayyaf-isis-commander-killed-by-us-forces-pentagon-says.html
   28. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/24/us/joshua-wheeler-killed-in-isis-raid.html

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