More boots on the ground?

Beginning in the spring of 2014, the terrorist organization known as ISIS, the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, routed a larger American trained and equipped Iraqi army capturing large quantities of weapons, vehicles and ammunition and seized large areas of northern Iraq and Syria. Building on its early successes, it has expanded its following into Afghanistan, Libya, Mali, Cameroon and Nigeria. To defeat ISIS, President Obama devised a strategy using U.S. air strikes, retrained Iraq Army troops, Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, Syrian rebel groups and Shia militias to fight it on the ground. To support these ground forces, small numbers of U.S. trainers, advisors, security personnel and intelligence specialists are being sent. To date, The U.S. has sent 3,700 military personnel to Iraq while 9,800 troops are in Afghanistan serving as advisors.

In spite of the expanding ISIS presence, estimated to be between 20,000 and 30,000 fighters, President Obama has repeatedly said that no U.S. "boots on the ground" will be sent to combat ISIS directly even though his military advisors have consistently contradicted the strategy. The first instance was in September 2014, when Gen. Martin Dempsey, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that "we would have to send in U.S. Troops to fight ISIS if there's to be any hope of success in the strategy. The reality is, they're not gonna be able to be successful against ISIS strictly from the air, or strictly depending on the Iraqi forces, or the Peshmerga, or the Sunni tribes acting on their own, so there will be boots on the ground." On January 29, the New York Times reported that "Pentagon officials have concluded that hundreds more trainers, advisors and Special Forces troops from the United States and its allies will need to be sent to Iraq and Syria in the coming months as the campaign to isolate the Islamic State intensifies."


Advertisement

Although no U.S. combat units of battalion size or larger have been deployed, the White House acknowledged that U. S. Special Forces were, in fact, advising front line Kurdish and Iraqi Army units against ISIS in Syria and 3,000 more troops will be sent to Afghanistan where American forces have conducted commando raids against ISIS aligned militants. In Syria, U.S. Special Operations forces have established bases and are, according to the New York Times, conducting "commando raids" against ISIS. In Nigeria, the Pentagon is poised to send in dozens of Special Operations advisors to assist front line Nigerian forces battle the ISIS affiliate, Boko Haram. Further, Secretary of Defense, Ash Carter recently confirmed that the U.S. has set up a covert military base in Syria and deployed a small number of Special Forces troops to conduct raids against ISIS. In Nigeria the Pentagon is poised to send dozens of Special Operations advisers to the front lines fighting Boko Haram. On January 26, The New York Times reported that the Pentagon is drawing up "plans to open up a third front [Libya] in the war against the Islamic State."

President Obama's "no boots on the ground" strategy may reflect his determination not to leave his successor with another bloody quagmire like the one President George W. Bush left him; a quagmire that cost America 4491 dead, 32,524 wounded, over 300,000 with PTSD and approximately $2 trillion. It remains to be seen whether or not President Obama's "no boots on the ground" strategy will prevail but perhaps, more importantly will his successor continue with it or decide to send in U.S. combat troops to defeat ISIS in yet another U.S. Mid-East war of unanticipated consequences.

— Andrew Schoerke Shaftsbury