Monday, September 15, 2014

Senior AF Commander: Syria Airstrikes Need Boots on the Ground

U.S. special operations forces will be needed on the ground in Syria to make the expanded air war President Obama has ordered there more effective, a senior Air Force commander told USA TODAY.
The spy planes flying missions over Iraq and Syria can develop a list of potential Islamic State targets, said the commander who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe what the war might look like. But it's "absolutely crucial that pilots are talking to an American on the ground" who can verify that the target is legitimate.
The CIA said Thursday evening that a new intelligence assessment estimates the Islamic State can muster between 20,000 and 31,500 fighters across Iraq and Syria, up from a previous figure of 10,000. CIA spokesman Ryan Trapani said the new assessment is based on a review of intelligence reports from May to August, the Associated Press reported.
Kurdish "peshmerga" take shelter from a bombing raid.
(Photo: Khalid Mohammed, AP)
Obama has said he is not sending traditional ground combat troops to Iraq or Syria. However, there will be teams of about 12 American troops advising and assisting Iraqi forces.
Syria's air defense network, the officer said, will probably not be a major concern for U.S. pilots, because the Syrian weapons are concentrated near the capital of Damascus and the border of Israel. ISIL forces would probably not be able to operate sophisticated surface-to-air missile systems that require extensive training to operate.
A close parallel for the effort against ISIL, the officer said, could be the early stages of the U.S. war that toppled the Taliban in Afghanistan in late 2001. Small groups of U.S. special operators, sometimes on horseback, worked with fighters from the Northern Alliance to locate and destroy Taliban targets.
That comparison applies in Iraq where competent indigenous commandos and Kurdish peshmerga fighters can take advantage of bombing runs, said Michael O'Hanlon, a military analyst at the Brookings Institution. In Syria, it will take time to train and work with reliable allies.
"We don't have that now in Syria," O'Hanlon said. "So this model works for Iraq soon, but not for Syria until 2015, 2016."
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