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Five Options for the U.S. in Syria

by Brian Michael Jenkins

October 21, 2015

Источник: http://www.rand.org/blog/2015/10/five-options-for-the-us-in-syria.html

With the debate in Washington about the success or failure of American strategy in Syria and Iraq continuing and presidential campaigns running at full steam, there has been no shortage of competing suggestions about how the United States must respond to Russia’s intervention in Syria’s civil war. These suggestions range from reducing America’s involvement in the ongoing conflict to escalating U.S. military efforts in response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s provocation.

Many of these proposals sound muscular but remain vague. It is not clear, for example, what the pronouncement that the United States “must reestablish its presence” means operationally. Adding details dilutes the tough-sounding talk or raises questions about realism. Countering Putin in the Middle East comes down to advising neighboring countries to prevent Russian overflights or sanctioning Russian defense companies — which the United States has been doing since Russia’s intervention in Ukraine. Turning to another suggestion, it is not clear how the United States might build up a “regional army” to destroy the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and bring down Syrian President Bashar Assad or who in the region would be inclined to join such an army. Thus far, America’s efforts to train and equip a limited number of fighters have turned into an expensive embarrassment.

This is not to say that America’s current course of action is based upon a realistic assessment of the situation. Right now, Russia may not be impressed by President Obama’s offer to work with Putin only when Russia drops its support for Assad. If Russia’s military intervention turned into a costly quagmire, as its invasion of Afghanistan did 30 years ago, Moscow could come to see things differently, but that is not the situation now.

Without getting distracted by speculation about Putin’s psychology or long-range strategy, it is clear that Russia does not want to see its long-time ally in Damascus collapse. Russia wants to ensure the survival of the Assad regime, its last remaining partner in the Middle East, or at the very least, a pro-Russian successor that will guarantee its continued possession of Russia’s only naval base on the Mediterranean.

That means defending Damascus and the Syrian government’s remaining enclave in the western part of the country, which, in turn, means going after the adjacent rebel forces. These include both al Qaeda’s affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, and what remains of the more-secular forces backed by the West. This goal explains the immediate focus of Russia’s airstrikes. ISIS is concentrated in eastern Syria and thus a more distant threat, although the presence of a reported contingent of 2,500 Muslims from Chechnya and the Caucasus in the ranks of ISIS has to worry Moscow and provides another motive for why Russia is not content to let the United States and allies deal with Syria’s insurgents. Russian participation in ISIS’s destruction should not be unwelcome, even though policy and politics require American officials to insist that the United States and Russia are not cooperating.

Russia’s intervention in Syria distracts world attention from Ukraine and ordinary Russians from their own economic travails in addition to making the United States look foolish. Some Russians may welcome new military engagements abroad as validation of Russian power, but putting Russian soldiers — even as volunteers — on the ground in Syria runs risks. And although Russia’s involvement in Syria is being portrayed domestically as an expression of Deus vult (“God wills it,” the battle cry of the First Crusade in the 11th century), Russia probably would want to avoid the consequences of what could be portrayed as a Russian religious war against all Sunnis.

The United States and its allies have additional objectives, which complicates strategy. For now, ISIS’s rapid expansion in 2014, its well-advertised atrocities, and fear of foreign fighters returning home have made its destruction the politically acceptable priority — the coalition is bombing ISIS, not Assad. But ISIS’s enemies in the West, along with Turkey, Jordan and the Gulf monarchies, also want Assad out and replaced by a more inclusive government that is capable of drawing in the majority of Sunnis who might otherwise end up in ISIS’s camp.

The fact that no suitable replacement for Assad has yet emerged does not lessen Western hostility toward his regime. Western powers definitely want to prevent the Syrian regime, supported by Russia, Iran and Hezbollah, from destroying the anti-Assad forces. Even though these forces include undesirable extremist elements, they keep Assad weak and contained. At the same time, the West does not want Assad’s departure to be followed by the kind of chaos that has continued long after Muammar Gaddafi’s removal from power in Libya. Nor does it want to see jihadists slaughter Assad’s Alawite and Christian supporters — infidels, in the eyes of Sunni fanatics.

Coalitions come with constraints. There is little international support for expanding the coalition’s campaign beyond attacking ISIS. Broadening the coalition’s mission or escalating the conflict by introducing ground combat forces might reassure some in the region of American resolve, but it could make some participants drop out. The United States could go it alone or with a handful of allies, but doing so also jeopardizes legitimacy and could erode already tenuous domestic support.

Fears of the terrorist threat posed by returning foreign fighters, who now make up a sizable portion of ISIS’s ranks, and the difficulties of dealing with the deluge of refugees pouring out of the region, further complicate strategic calculations. The refugee crisis is shaking the European Union to its core.

So what is to be done? Here are five options:

Confrontation. Denunciations by themselves don’t work. Bluffs are not credible. No one proposes going to war with Russia; Syria is not worth it. Still, in the eyes of many, a forceful American response must include boots on the ground. Combining some of the more ambitious proposals would mean the deployment of up to 25,000 American troops to Iraq (assuming Iraq allows this) and sending another 10,000 or more to Syria to lead a larger allied regional army to destroy ISIS. (American military commanders warn that American combat troops, while effective in battle, would still face a long-term pacification problem as seen a decade earlier in Afghanistan and Iraq.) More realistic steps could include declaring no-fly zones off-limits to Syrian government or Russian airstrikes — an idea considered before Russia’s direct intervention — and manning them with American forces to discourage Russia from testing American resolve. The United States could also openly deploy American ground forces — as opposed to covert operatives — to assist secular rebels in Syria, but despite some progress, it is still not certain that independent, viable and effective secular rebel formations can be built up. The United States could exploit Europe’s unhappiness with Russian intervention to further increase targeted economic sanctions already imposed in response to Russia’s moves in Ukraine. Thus far, these have not altered Russian behavior, although they may weaken Russia in the long run by further undermining its economy, which is already hemorrhaging due to the collapse of oil prices.
An international peace conference. This option seems dead on arrival. Although the United States wants Assad out immediately, it might accept an overall settlement resulting in his eventual departure and his replacement by a new government that is able to reconcile with the rebels and restore its authority throughout Syrian national territory. In July at the Aspen Security Conference, a citadel of America’s security establishment, organizers tabled the questions of “whether … the pre-revolutionary Assad regime in Syria … [was] more in line with American interests and whether, as a consequence, the best outcome now is as close to the status quo ante as possible.” But Aspen is not Aleppo. For Syrians, the conflict has gone beyond regime change — it is now almost entirely sectarian and existential. Even if Assad departs, the regime’s Alawite and Christian stalwarts are unlikely to lay down their arms. It is difficult to imagine Jabhat al-Nusra and other Islamist rebels abandoning their struggle against infidel foes. And ISIS will remain outside any agreement.
An incremental cease-fire. Instead of a grand war-ending agreement, the United States could support a series of local cease-fires. Putting pre-2011 Syria back together is next to impossible for now. This option would mean accepting de facto partition of Syria into a series of cantons that leave the armed parties in place. Assad would get to stay and rule a miniature state in the western part of the country and Damascus: his Republika Syrianska. The rebels, including al Qaeda’s local affiliate, would get to hold the territory they currently command with the choice of keeping their little emirate or remaining the target of Russian or coalition bombing. Local cease-fires, withdrawals and exchanges of territory would be negotiated individually. As local agreements are reached, international forces, which might include both Russian and American observers, would help to keep peace on the perimeters. Participating entities would receive generous aid. Military action against ISIS by both coalition and Russian aircraft would continue. However, there should be no illusions: The fighting will continue in many areas, and there will be continued terrorist attacks. But local accommodations that allow reconstruction and commerce and that slow the flow of refugees might emerge in other localities.
Afghanistan redux. ISIS has survived coalition bombing for more than a year — that’s more than 12,000 airstrikes. It may be weakened, but it has not been defeated. Anti-Assad rebels now facing Russian bombing will suffer some setbacks but also may be able to adapt and remain effective. Even if Russia is able to drive back or scatter the rebels pressing on the remaining Syrian government-controlled territory, it will face a continuing insurgency, always the more difficult task. Like Syria, Russia is willing to use its military power indiscriminately, but that comes with a cost and does not always work. After nearly four years of ruthless bombing by the regime and assistance on the ground from Hezbollah and Iranian-backed militias and Iranian advisers, Assad is still unable to defeat the insurgents. While it cannot halt Russia’s bombing, the United States could increase its support for rebel forces other than ISIS by lowering its strict vetting, which thus far has limited American support. The Gulf monarchies that now support the rebels may be persuaded to do even more. The aim would be simply to put more weapons and more ammunition into rebel hands, accepting that some of these supplies may end up in jihadist possession — hopefully not ISIS, which, in this option, would remain the exclusive target of the coalition’s bombing campaign.
Containment. This option starts with the premise that the United States has limited objectives in Syria and Iraq and limited ability to shape events in these two countries without making a substantial military commitment — one that may turn out to be far greater than proponents of more-ambitious efforts admit. For now, there is no disagreement: American investment increases or American objectives are scaled back. The question is whether the American public, which now supports the bombing campaign as long as there are no U.S. casualties, will support (and continue to support) going to war and all that entails. That does not appear to be the case, a fact that critics of Washington’s current caution ignore. Under this option, the United States would continue its bombing campaign since ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra are viewed as a direct threat to American interests, and it would continue U.S. support for Kurdish fighters defending their territory against ISIL. However, the United States would not deploy ground forces, set up safe havens or no-fly zones, significantly increase its support for the other Syrian rebels, or make major investments in other military efforts to bring down Assad. Instead, the United States would pursue what can be described as a prudent course of action, limiting its involvement in a civil war it cannot resolve but can only make worse. America’s primary mission would be to assist neighboring allies in containing the conflict and defending themselves, especially Jordan and Saudi Arabia. ISIS’s black flag flying over Mecca would guarantee a long-lasting clash of civilizations. Helping the neighbors also means devoting more resources to the refugees. This is close to current U.S. policy.
Today’s politicians and tomorrow’s historians will debate whether, as some allege, America’s timidity and inaction allowed the current mess and created the vacuum that Russia has now entered. That does not tell us what America should do now.

There may be other options or preferable variations of these. Since these options are not mutually exclusive, perhaps some combination would make more sense. The purpose of laying them out is to encourage rational thinking based upon realistic presumptions, not media or campaign-driven hype. Right now, the situation in Syria presents a grim picture. Syria must be seen as a long-term problem that will resist any short-term solution, but circumstances will change and opportunities may arise that allow more promising interventions. America can then act wisely in its own national interest.

Strategic Insights: Will the Russians Escalate in Syria?

Dr. W. Andrew Terrill

November 6, 2015

Источник: http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/index.cfm/articles/Will-the-Russians-Escalate-in-Syria/2015/11/06

In an unexpected effort to protect a key Middle Eastern ally, the Kremlin intervened in Syria with military forces in late September 2015. This effort was undertaken to protect the Bashar Assad regime from Islamist and secular rebels now threatening his regime. Moscow initiated this action with a limited force that may be primarily designed to prevent Assad’s ouster but does not have the capabilities to help him retake large tracks of the country from the rebel groups that are now holding them.  The Russian leadership made the decision to use military units in Syria at some political cost, aware that it was poisoning relations with many conservative anti-Assad Arabs and complicating its troubled relationship with Western powers.1  At some point, the Russians will have to consider the questions of how well these efforts have met their goal of bolstering the regime and what will be their next moves.  They may also be rapidly faced with pressure to escalate their commitment to support the regime, if current actions do not produce meaningful results.  They may also learn the painful lesson of other great powers, that military intervention in the Middle East is often much more problematic than national leaders initially expect.

The Russian intervention has moved forward with limited assets in a sort of “intervention lite.”  The centerpiece of this policy is the introduction of Russian air units into Syrian combat.  At this time, these air assets are composed of around 30 fixed-wing combat aircraft and 20 helicopters operating out of a regime airbase outside of Latakia.2 Russian aircraft have been reported to be using a variety of munitions including precision guided munitions, cluster bombs, thermobaric bombs, rockets, and even cruise missiles.3  The majority of the attacks are nevertheless carried out with simple gravity bombs (“dumb bombs”) and large numbers of civilian casualties have been reported.4  The Su-25 ground attack aircraft appear to be primarily using unguided rockets fired from pods on the aircraft. Unfortunately for Moscow, perhaps a third of this limited number of aircraft are grounded at any one time as Russian maintenance crews struggle to cope with harsh desert conditions.5

Russian ground troops are present in Syria, but their primary duties seem to be protecting their forces at the Latakia base, advising the Syrians, and perhaps helping the Syrian military with the task of absorbing large numbers of new weapons that have been transferred to them as a part of recent military activity.  At the present time, the Russians seem to expect that ground fighting against anti-Assad rebels will be done primarily by Syrian forces along with limited numbers of expeditionary troops from Iran, the Lebanese Hezbollah group, and Shi’ite militias from various countries including Iraq.6  These forces have been increased over the past few months, but not dramatically, and certainly not in war winning numbers. The Russians have also been reported to have transferred special operations troops from Ukraine to Syria.7

In pursuing this effort, Moscow has created serious difficulties for itself and others with its targeting policies and its tendency to label all Assad opponents as terrorists.8  Anti-Assad groups such as the Free Syrian Army and the various non-ideological “brigades” of the Southern Coalition are clearly weaker than the radical-jihadist Islamic State organization or the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra front, but they are not non-factors.9  Bombing them is therefore extremely problematic for relations with the West and probably for a future political settlement.  In areas where these organizations work together and are physically close with al-Nusra (none currently work with the Islamic State), there may be some limited justification for spillover bombing of these groups, but such actions are still a problem.10 The danger is that the Russians may be trying to limit the number of relevant players in Syria to the Assad regime and the Islamic State in the hopes that the rest of the world will accept Assad under these circumstances.  The real problem here is that by reducing the number of players to two, they would effectively be reducing it to one, the Islamic State.  The Assad regime increasingly appears to be a spent force, heavily dependent on its allies, with little chance of bouncing back and no chance of reconquering the entire country.  Moreover, if attacks on non-jihadist rebels continue, anti-Assad Arab states may seek to provide these opposition forces with more and better-shoulder fired MANPADS (Man Portable, Air Defense Systems) to defend themselves against air attack. Saudi Arabia already appears to have dramatically increased its anti-armor support to non-jihadist opposition groups.11

In the longer term, Moscow’s effort to keep Assad in power and move against non-jihadist Assad adversaries could severely complicate any Russian hopes for an eventual withdrawal from Syria as the dictator becomes increasingly dependent on Moscow and Tehran.  At some point, a militarily floundering and more pragmatic Kremlin may wish to ease him out of power in favor of a temporary coalition government composed of moderate rebels and perhaps some elements of the Syrian military and regime, but not Assad or his closest cronies.  While this may not be Putin’s first choice for Syria, he may come to prefer it to endless, inconclusive, and expensive military involvement in Syria on behalf of Assad. The Russians do not always appear to be aware of the subtleties of military intervention far from their own borders or the dangers presented when a stubborn Third Word client decides to ignore foreign advice.  The endless difficulties presented by such people is a problem the United States has faced from at least Ngo Dinh Diem to Nuri al-Maliki.  Moreover, Assad can easily accept Russian help while still demanding more and insisting on additional input into Russia’s Syria policy.  These actions will not be a problem if Russian and Syrian interests are identical, but they are not and they are increasingly likely to diverge over time as the war continues to bog down for them.

The problem with any military intervention is that if it does not rapidly achieve military goals, the choice often becomes to escalate or withdraw without accomplishing the objectives.  The former choice can simply reinforce a bad decision and raise the stakes for a doubtful outcome, while the latter is a humiliating admission that the entire enterprise was a costly mistake.  While Vietnam analogies are overused to death, the current Russian strategy does echo the U.S. ideas about infrastructure protection and use of airpower in 1965 after the Viet Cong attack on the Pleiku Barracks (Camp Holloway) and the initiation of Operation ROLLING THUNDER as part of a process of ongoing and eventually very dramatic escalation. If the Russians find themselves unable to push the Syrian regime forward with meaningful military progress, they will surely be tempted to escalate as well.  The price of achieving a military solution to Syria could be staggering and it is difficult to see how the Russian economy could support it.

In summary, the Kremlin has not committed the resources to do much more than help prevent Assad’s short-term defeat.  It cannot win the war even with the help of Iran and its Middle Eastern allies and may be faced with ongoing pressure to escalate. Under these conditions, it may be tempting for some Western policymakers to simply let them flounder, but this is not a good idea.  The problem here is that while Russia and the West do not have the same Syrian friends, they have at least one important enemy in common, the Islamic State.  Letting Russia wallow in an increasingly difficult intervention is not the way to defeat the Islamic State. The United States may therefore have to remain open to some form of cooperation, provided that the Russians stop bombing groups like the Free Syrian Army and focus their attention on fighting the Islamic State. Also, Moscow needs to understand that by attacking non-jihadist rebels, it harms the ability of other nations to help end the war through an eventual political settlement involving non-jihadist groups. This outcome seems to be in Russia’s long-term interest. In a best case scenario, the Russians might also be especially useful in convincing Assad that it is time to retire abroad.  Otherwise they may remain in Syria propping up an unpopular and probably doomed regime until the economic burden of such efforts forces them to face a humiliating withdrawal with Syria in even more chaos.


1. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies particularly detest Assad, while Egypt is more concerned about the danger of an Islamist Syria.  I have considered these issues in some depth in W. Andrew Terrill,  Arab Threat Perceptions and the Future of the U.S. Military Presence in the Middle East, Carlisle, PA: U.S. Army War College Press, 2015, especially pp. 7-15.

2. Matthew Bodner, “Russia Shows Early Success, New Capabilities in Syria,”Defense News, October 19, 2015, p. 4.

3. Ibid., p. 4.

4. Kareem Fahim and Maher Samaan, “In Huge Spike, Civilians Flee Syria Violence,” New York Times, October 27, 2015.

5. Tom Vanden Brook, “Harsh Conditions are foiling Russian Jets in Syria,”USA Today, October 25, 2015.

6. Loveday Morris and Mustafa Salim, “Tehran’s proxies ordered to Syria,”Washington Post, October 20, 2015.

7. Thomas Grove, “World News: Russia Sends Units from Ukraine to Aid Assad,” Wall Street Journal, October 24, 2015, A-6.

8. Adam Entous, “U.S. Says Russia Targets CIA-backed Rebels in Syria,” Wall Street Journal, October 6, 2015.

9. On rebel groups see International Crisis Group, New Approach in Southern Syria, Brussels, Belgium, ICG: September 2015, especially pp. 2-10.

10. Agence France Presse, “Apparent Russian raids in Syria’s south for first time,” Daily Star (Beirut), October 29, 2015.

11. Anne Barnard and Karam Shoumali, “U.S. Weaponry Is turning Syrian into Proxy war with Russia,” New York Times, October 12, 2015.

Any Review of Syria and Iraq Strategy Needs Realistic Reappraisal

by Brian Michael Jenkins

September 28, 2015

Источник: http://www.rand.org/blog/2015/09/any-review-of-syria-and-iraq-strategy-needs-realistic.html

As the fighting continues and refugees flood Europe, many in Washington are calling for a fundamental review of U.S. strategy in Syria and Iraq. That must begin with a realistic appreciation of the situation.

The continued fighting has seen the diminishing strength of Syria’s secular rebels and the ascent of its most extreme jihadist component, represented by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Since the American-led coalition bombing campaign began a year ago, ISIS has suffered some military setbacks and lost territory, but it also has been able to capture several more key cities in Iraq and Syria, and, despite the bombing, continues to attract a large number of foreign fighters. The threat they pose — along with ISIS’s continued exhortations to supporters abroad to carry out terrorist attacks — has security officials in Europe and America on edge.

The conflicts in Syria and Iraq seem to be at a stalemate. Towns may fall or be recaptured, but “front lines” move marginally. Insurgents in Syria and Iraq will likely not be able to overthrow the governments in Damascus and Baghdad, but neither will the Syrian nor Iraqi governments be likely to restore their authority throughout their national territories.

National armies in both countries have failed. Power has shifted to militias capable of defending ethnic and sectarian enclaves but limited in their ability to conduct strategic operations beyond their home ground. This shift will, in turn, weaken future central government authority.

Syria and Iraq are now effectively partitioned. These partitions are likely to persist. With U.S. backing, ethnic Kurds have been effective fighters against ISIS and have consolidated their traditional territory in northern Syria and Iraq. Turkey worries that the Kurds are laying the foundation for a future independent state, although no such intention has been announced. Although the Kurds fight forcefully when supported by coalition bombing, they are unlikely to advance into traditional Sunni areas.

The Syrian government has largely abandoned the Sunni areas of the country and is increasingly devoted to defending Damascus and its sectarian bastion in western Syria. Baghdad’s Shiite-dominated government has not been able to win over many of Iraq’s Sunnis, and that will impede its ability to recapture the cities and towns now held by ISIS.

It remains to be seen whether ISIS, despite the bombing campaign, will be able to consolidate its Islamic State and make it the primary political expression of Sunnis in Syria and Iraq. Alternatively, we could instead see the emergence of a Sunni badlands where warfare between armed rivals continues indefinitely.

Easier to forecast is that the fighting is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. Sectarian and ethnic divisions are now driving the conflicts, making the contest more existential for its participants. Yearnings for peace may be universal, but none of the belligerents appears able to imagine surviving under rule by their foes.

Foreign powers in the region and beyond have significant stakes in the conflicts. This is now complicated by the military intervention of both Turkey and Russia, but absent large-scale direct military investments, which can easily backfire, none of the foreign powers can guarantee the triumph of their local allies or ensure the defeat of their foes. Moreover, the interests of the external powers compete with, rather than complement, each other.

Foreign fighters continue to head for Syria to join jihadist fronts, mainly ISIS, which recruits by advertising the opportunity to build a so-called “authentic” Islamic State and opportunities for unlimited violence. Foreign fighters will continue to pose an additional layer of threat to neighboring states and their countries of origin. The volume of individuals wanting to join ISIS or returning from Syria and Iraq is overwhelming authorities in Europe.

The conflict in Syria has produced millions of refugees on a scale approaching that of Europe during World War II. As long as the fighting continues — which is likely — these refugees will not be able to go home, nor can so many be absorbed by the surrounding countries. They are the new Palestinians and will remain an international burden and a source of regional instability.

Although these stark conclusions hardly sound controversial, they are antithetical to American policy. The very idea of a military stalemate lasting years — or decades — defies America’s sense of progress. Secular, democratic governance and religious tolerance are deeply held American values. The United States operates on the presumption that the sectarian and ethnic divisions can be bridged; that Iraq’s national army can be rebuilt into an effective fighting force; that the Bashar Assad regime in Syria can be replaced by a more inclusive government; that the Sunnis can be won over and the jihadists can be isolated, contained and defeated; that peace and national unity can be restored, enabling the refugees to return; and that this can be achieved without the commitment of large numbers of combat forces or even with the commitment of American combat forces.

Unquestionably, these are noble aims, and diplomats are required to be optimists. Nonetheless, national objectives must be based upon realistic assessments of the situation. Here, the distance between presumed aspiration and reality seems great.

The Implications of the Paris Terrorist Attack for American Strategy in Syria and Homeland Security

by Brian Michael Jenkins

Источник: http://www.rand.org/pubs/testimonies/CT445.html

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Testimony submitted before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on November 19, 2015.

The Terrorism Threat to the United States and Implications for Refugees

by Seth G. Jones

Testimony presented before the House Homeland Security Committee, Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence on June 24, 2015.

Источник: http://www.rand.org/pubs/testimonies/CT433.html

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Iran’s Goals in Syria

by Alireza Nader

January 26, 2015

Источник: http://www.rand.org/blog/2015/01/irans-goals-in-syria.html

What is Iran doing in Syria? How important is Iran in the ground war?
Iran is playing a crucial role in buttressing President Bashar Assad, through military advice, provision of weapons, and funding of the cash-strapped Syrian government. The Assad regime might not survive without support of Iran and its allies such as Hezbollah.
Where are Iranian forces concentrated? How many are there? What are they doing exactly?
Some Iranians have been killed in Syria, including Iranian Revolutionary Guard General Mohammed Allahdadi in January 2015. But Iran does not appear to be committing major ground forces to the conflict. Tehran instead prefers to recruit Shiite militias from across the Middle East and even Afghanistan to fight in places like Damascus and Aleppo. Iran’s profile in Syria is lower than its profile in Iraq.
What are the stakes for Iran in Syria?
Iran has sought to protect the dozens of Shiite holy sites in Syria, especially the Zeinab Shrine near Damascus. Tehran used the holy sites to recruit fighters to aid Assad. More importantly, Syria is the geopolitical lynchpin for Iranian influence in the Levant and the wider Arab world. If the Syrian regime fell, the flow of arms and aid to Iran’s most important Arab ally — the Lebanese militia and political party Hezbollah — would be affected. Hezbollah, which has thousands of rockets aimed at Israel, is the main Iranian deterrence against Israel.
How does Iran’s role in Syria today differ from its earlier activities before the war?
Iran and Syria have been close allies since the 1979 Iranian revolution. Each has provided the other with critical assistance at various times. Syria was one of only two Arab nations (Libya was the other) to support Iran during the eight-year war with Saddam Hussein in the 1980s. It was an important conduit for weapons to an isolated Iran.

Over the last decade, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have trained, equipped, and aided Syria’s security and military forces. Hundreds of thousands of Iranian pilgrims and tourists visited Syria before its civil war, and Iranian companies made significant investments in the Syrian economy.

But in the past few years, Iran has played an active role in Syria that few could have imagined before the civil war. “The deep, strategic and historic relations between the people of Syria and Iran … will not be shaken by any force in the world,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said shortly after his 2013 inauguration. Tehran appears to be willing to spend billions of dollars to prop up the Assad regime despite its own floundering economy. For now, Iran is fully committed to the fight.
How do Iran’s actions and goals in Syria differ from the United States?
Iran has opposed U.S. policies on Syria since the conflict broke out. In 2013, Tehran condemned the U.S. move to provide non-lethal aid to rebels for the first time. Iranian officials criticized U.S.-led airstrikes on Islamic State (ISIS) targets in 2014, despite a shared interest in defeating the militants. Rouhani said the bombardments were illegal because they had not been sanctioned by the Syrian government.

Tehran has also argued that the best way to defeat ISIS is to support the Assad government. It has challenged U.S. support for anti-government rebels. “You cannot fight ISIS and the government in Damascus together,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in reaction to the airstrikes.

Tehran generally opposes any type of foreign intervention in Syria. But officials have warned the United States in particular not to deploy its forces in the region again.

Tehran welcomed Assad’s reelection to the presidency in June 2014, while Washington dismissed the poll. “The elections are non-elections. A great big zero,” said Secretary of State John Kerry. But Tehran may not be fully committed to Bashar Assad as the only leader for Syria, although it wants a pro-Iranian regime in Damascus.
How are U.S. and Iranian actions affecting each other’s strategies?
The divide between Iran and the United States in Syria appears to be unbridgeable, but Iran may be flexible in Syria as long as its interests are protected. This may not be palatable for the United States and its allies, especially Saudi Arabia and Turkey, which have long sought to overthrow the Alawite-led regime.

Containing Middle East Terror

Measures to Reduce the Threat Posed By Foreign Fighters Returning from Syria and Iraq

by Brian Michael Jenkins

Источник: http://www.rand.org/pubs/testimonies/CT427.html

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Testimony presented before the House Homeland Security Committee, Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security on March 17, 2015.

The Syrian Refugee Crisis and U.S. National Security

by Seth G. Jones

Testimony presented before the House Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security on November 19, 2015

Источник: http://www.rand.org/pubs/testimonies/CT444.html

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Train and Equip Program for Syria: Authorities, Funding, and Issues for Congress

Christopher M. Blanchard

Amy Belasco

June 9, 2015

Источник: https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/index.html

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In 2014, Congress for the first time provided the President with authority and funds to overtly

train and lethally equip vetted members of the Syrian opposition for select purposes. These

purposes include supporting U.S. efforts to combat the Islamic State and other terrorist

organizations in Syria and setting the conditions for a negotiated settlement to Syria’s civil war.

The FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA, P.L. 113-291) and the FY2015

Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015 (P.L. 113-235) provided that up to

$500 million could be transferred from the newly-established Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund

(CTPF) to train and equip such Syrian forces. Additional funding could be provided from other

sources for the Syrian Train and Equip Program, including from foreign contributions, subject to

the approval of the congressional defense committees.

As of June 2015, the defense committees have approved the transfer of $500 million in FY2015

CTPF funds for the program and an additional $80 million in Defense Working Capital Funds for

related U.S. government operations. Several hundred U.S. military training personnel and a

similar number of support personnel have deployed in support of the program. According to

Administration officials, the intention is for the program to field a force of approximately 3,000

vetted Syrians in 2015 and 5,400 others per year in 2016 and, if authorized, in 2017. The

authority provided in the FY2015 NDAA expires after December 31, 2016.

In FY2016, the Administration is requesting $600 million in a new, separate Syria Train and

Equip account that, if authorized and appropriated as requested, would not require advance

notification and approval by the four defense committees.

Current debate over the program—as expressed in congressional consideration of proposed

FY2016 defense authorization and appropriations legislation (H.R. 2685, H.R. 1735, S. 1376)

centers on:

  • The amounts, alignment, and terms associated with FY2016 funding for the


  • The extent and type of U.S. support or protection, if any, that may be provided to

Syrian trainees upon their return to Syria, especially in the event of attack by pro-

Asad or other forces in Syria.

  • The size, scope, and effectiveness of the Syria Train and Equip Program as

currently implemented; its purposes relative to overarching U.S. strategy toward

Syria; and its integration with U.S.-led coalition efforts to combat the Islamic

State organization.

  • The content and scope of requested strategy and reporting requirements.

A Way Forward for Obama and Putin in Syria

Eugene Rumer

October 7, 2015

Источник: http://carnegieendowment.org/2015/10/07/way-forward-for-obama-and-putin-in-syria/iin7

With no solution to the Syria crisis in sight, it is time to resort to what has worked in other seemingly unsolvable crises: the P5+1 mechanism.

The crisis in Syria has become a standoff between the U.S. and Russia. Each side is blaming the other for it. Moscow charges the Syrian tragedy is the direct consequence of U.S. unilateral, delusional pursuit of democracy in the Middle East. Washington insists that Russian support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is the cause. The most the two seem to be able to agree on is to talk about de-conflicting their air operations to avoid a mid-air collision between their planes. With no solution in sight, it is time to resort to what has worked in other seemingly unsolvable crises: the P5+1 mechanism.

The P5+1—the U.S., Russia, France, Great Britain, China, all U.N. Security Council permanent members joined by Germany—is a unique forum where the key parties can come together to seek a way to solve the Syrian crisis. In addition to the major powers, the P5+1 format has the advantage of being able to engage Iran, a critical actor in Syria without whom no solution can be found. The trust built up between the P5+1 countries and Iran in the course of the negotiations about Iran’s nuclear program, and the success of those talks make for a unique basis to address the Syrian crisis. The U.S. and Russia can ill afford to squander it.

For Russia, President Vladimir Putin’s deployment of air assets to Syria was a clever tactical move that reasserted Russia’s power. Getting into Syria was easy for Putin. Getting out of it may be harder. Air strikes alone will not end the conflict. Even though some in Moscow have hinted that Russian “volunteers” may go to Syria to fight ISIL and other enemies of Assad, Putin said he has no plans to put Russian boots on the ground in Syria. The Russian public is opposed to sending troops there. Many voices in Moscow have sounded the alarm about getting bogged down. P5+1 talks on Syria would offer Putin a way out. And as in nuclear talks with Iran, this format guarantees Putin a seat at the big powers’ table.

Unlike other powers, Iran, an important Russian ally, has boots on the ground in Syria. Iran’s client Hezbollah has been deeply involved in the war, and Iranian troops have been reported fighting in Syria as well, backing Assad. Through its involvement in Syria, Iran, too, has positioned itself as a key party to any future resolution of the Syrian war. It has the ability to undermine any agreement reached without it. It should have a seat at the table.

For Europe, scrambling to deal with Syrian refugees, ending the conflict is top priority. European leaders have yet to offer any comprehensive solution to the crisis other than appealing for all parties to end the fighting. Anything that offers a way out of the crisis is better than nothing.

For the U.S., the P5+1 format would bring some advantages as well as a measure of compromise. It would insulate the U.S. from the charge of unilateralism and create a real coalition to deal with the crisis whose legitimacy under the U.N. umbrella would be unassailable. It would impose the P5+1 framework on what otherwise is Russian unilateralism and could potentially harness Russian military presence constructively on behalf of the coalition. If this was not accepted by Putin, the U.S. could expose his bluff and open him to the charge of unilateralism.

The P5+1 format would require that the U.S. put aside the condition that Assad must step down prior to or as a result of the settlement talks. In fact, recent U.S. statements suggest there is some flexibility in the U.S. position on this issue. U.S. willingness to stop insisting on Assad’s departure and agree to address this issue in the future would open the possibility of creating a real coalition to defeat ISIL and a political solution for the Syrian war, which are the key U.S. goals, shared by Russia, Iran, Europe and—yes—Assad.

Other parties to the conflict—Turkey, Saudi Arabia, other Persian Gulf States—may complain about Iran’s role and Assad remaining in power for now. But in all the years of the war in Syria, they have offered no solution to the crisis, and no way to stop the bloodshed. They should have a voice, but they should not be in a position to block the talks.

Finally, for the Syrians themselves, the P5+1 involvement would offer the reassurance of the international community’s support and involvement in any future settlement in Syria. For the beleaguered Syrian opposition, it would be a commitment by the P5+1 countries that they will not be abandoned to the mercy of Assad’s troops after the conflict is over. For Assad and his supporters, Russia’s and Iran’s presence would serve as a reassurance and hold out the possibility of an orderly transition instead of a defeat or endless conflict.

This is neither the perfect nor a guaranteed solution to the Syrian war. But insisting on the perfect and ignoring the good is not an option while thousands of Syrians are dying.

This article was originally published in Time.

Putin and Politics Are Behind Obama’s Decision to Send Troops to Syria

David Rothkopf

October 30, 2015

Источник: http://carnegieendowment.org/2015/10/30/putin-and-politics-are-behind-obama-s-decision-to-send-troops-to-syria/ikrw

Whatever stated anti-Islamic State purpose there may be for the involvement of U.S. forces in Syria, it also—and perhaps even primarily—has a political purpose.

Vladimir Putin ordered U.S. troops into combat in Syria on Friday. That’s not what White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said when explaining the decision to send as many as 50 special operations forces into a training, assistance, and advisory role in that country, but that’s the reality. If the Russian president hadn’t made his move into Syria, the United States would not have felt compelled to finally, belatedly, shore up support for anti-Islamic State and anti-Assad allies in that embattled, long-suffering country.

How do we know that? The past three years are how we know that. Those years have been a period during which the president’s own top national security advisors were unable to get him to take more decisive action to stop the decay in Syria — which gave way to the upheaval that now fuels not only the rise of the world’s most dangerous extremists but also the overflow of refugees into Europe and neighboring countries in the Middle East. But Putin, apparently, has more sway in the Oval Office than Hillary Clinton, Bob Gates, Leon Panetta, David Petraeus, and a host of others whose counsel went unheeded ever did.

Putin’s decisiveness in engaging in Syria has shifted the balance of power in that country. It has not only unquestionably shored up President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, but it has also sent a message that opponents of Assad (including some ostensible U.S. allies among the rebel fighters in Syria) were going to be the targets of the fiercest military attacks rather than the Islamic State extremists the United States and its allies were seemingly seeking to defeat. The Russians talked up their opposition to the Islamic State, but the pattern of their initial strikes indicated that the primary goal was protecting their man in Damascus. (Putin’s long-term motives in Syria remain misunderstood by many in Washington. They do not seem to understand that he does not seek to transform the country or do any of the things that would make Russia’s involvement a dangerous quagmire for him. He simply seeks to ensure that the regime in Syria’s capital is acceptable to him. That means keeping Assad in place or being involved enough to have a clear say in choosing his successor. That is all. If the rest of the country roils and sends refugees into Europe, shoring up nationalists and weakening support for the EU, all the better for Putin. In fact, it would be a win-win for the Russian Tarzan.)

Whatever stated anti-Islamic State purpose there may be for the U.S. forces involvement in Syria, it also — and perhaps even primarily — has a political purpose. (As a general rule, if a military action seems to be too small to advance a military objective then it probably is being done for political reasons.) Domestically, the move to send U.S. Special Forces into Syria helps the president address the perception of American inaction that was seen to have contributed to the Russian intervention while also helping to address concerns that the administration’s efforts to train the Syrian opposition have been a failure to date. As far as geopolitics is concerned, it lends credibility to America’s desired role in advancing the multiparty talks about Syria’s future taking place in Vienna this week. It says the United States is involved and also suggests to the Russians that the conflict in Syria may grow more complex for them (as we work toward not always overlapping goals) so it provides a little pressure on that front as well.

In fact, what it also ends up meaning is that for the foreseeable future in Syria there’s going to be a whole lot of “de-conflicting” going on. The United States and its allies, the Russians, the Iranians, and the Syrians will have to work to ensure that in the confused fog of the Syrian war — on which some battle zones contain scores of factions — the collateral damage does not include destabilizing otherwise stable relationships between major powers. A subsequent consequence that seems inevitable anyway, given the complexity of the Syrian conflict, is that the Russians or Iranians will be found increasingly attacking and killing fighters who are direct proxies of the Saudis, Qataris, and others. And when that happens, we will suddenly see the greatest geopolitical clusterfuck of the current era get even clusterfuckier.

I understand the White House’s decision clearly. It makes some political sense. It may help nudge political discussions regarding Syria’s future forward. Secretary of State John Kerry is pushing hard on this front, but at the moment there are too many moving parts to make real progress. And, as is the case in other conflicts, like that of Israel and Palestine, while the end deal is clear, getting politicians to admit that is going to be tough. (And the reality of that end deal looks like this: Assad stays for transition, leaves with immunity, is replaced by Assad-lite alternative acceptable to Moscow and Tehran, and the United States gets a fig leaf of promise of a more inclusive Syrian government — one that is soon forgotten because everyone values stability above niceties like democracy or respect for human rights — while much of the country will remain in turmoil because Damascus doesn’t, and may never again, control it.)

I also understand the decision to send in troops because of my extensive training in the field that is really the birthplace of geopolitics, which is to say “show business.” (My first half-dozen or so years after college were spent directing and writing for theater and television.) In show business, one of the most often quoted maxims is “acting is reacting.” It means that good actors listen to the other actors they are working with and respond to what they are given rather than anticipating their business or emotions simply because they are called for in the script.

In foreign policy, sometimes smart reacting is called for. As with theater, a performance is best when it comes naturally, quickly, and doesn’t seem forced or unduly delayed. But on the world stage, reaction is, of course, not enough. Leaders must lead. They must be willing to take the first step sometimes, show initiative, set the rules, and take risks. That is why canned (and let’s face it, tiresome and unconvincing) dismissals of Putin from U.S. officials and sympathetic commentators in the media aside, the Russian president has in Syria — as he did in Ukraine — really reset the terms of a situation in which his side had been losing ground. And he benefited because he did more than simply react. (Arguments that Putin has not benefited in Ukraine are unconvincing. He has Crimea. He has much greater influence in eastern Ukraine. Sanctions have hurt economically but not politically — his approval rating post-Ukraine and now Syria is near 90 percent. Or as Donald Trump would say enviously — “huge.”)

Will Putin’s gambit in Syria work exactly as he hopes? Maybe not. (Though I bet, as in Ukraine, he gets much of what he wants, even if not all of it and even if the cost is higher than anticipated.) But he is one of a breed of leaders who are looking at the last months of the Obama administration and seeing American passivity as an invitation for opportunism.

Iran is seizing the initiative as much as Russia is — beginning with but not limited to the collaboration of the two sides in Syria and Iraq. Iran sees America’s swoon and the not entirely unrelated struggles in the region’s Sunni pillar states — Egypt and Saudi Arabia — as an opportunity to gain influence. And in this sense Iran is also doing exactly what Russia has done: gaining control where it can, putting pressure where it can, and extending its sphere of influence. In this case, it must be said that America’s lack of leadership is compounded by the absence of a positive “moderate” Sunni agenda in the region. Like the GOP candidates for president, Egyptian, Saudi and many other Sunni moderate leaders may know what they are against but not what they are for. The result is that anyone with a clear agenda in the Middle East — whether a pragmatic one like the Iranians or a positively demonic one like that of the Islamic State — makes headway in the intellectual, policy, and action vacuum they have created.

And it’s not just a behavioral pattern being played out in the Middle East, China has done likewise in the South China Sea. In each of these instances, calculating international actors have seen America’s inertness, made an educated guess as to where the real red line that would trigger significant U.S. reaction might be, and then taken an initiative that has gone as far as, but not past, the red line. And these actors are making big gains wherever they see zones of U.S. indifference around the world.

And the U.S. pattern of reaction is the same over and over. It’s only after these opportunistic actors seize the day that we are roused into action. The kind of action that might make us look engaged but that does not change the situation very much — a destroyer sails around some artificial islands, a few troops and Humvees are deployed in Poland, some special operations forces are deployed in Syria. It is the equivalent of squeaking “Oh yeah?” to a bully who has come up to you on the beach, kicked sand in your face, and walked away with your picnic basket. It’s the Obama special, the illusion of action.

Acting may be reacting on the stage, but it’s not enough in foreign policy and not enough for leadership. Sometimes, you have to know what you want and be willing to have enough guts and courage in your convictions to make the first move.

This article was originally published in Foreign Policy.

Wanted: a U.S. Strategy for Syria and Iraq

By Melissa Dalton

Nov 16, 2015

Источник: http://csis.org/publication/wanted-us-strategy-syria-and-iraq

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Fifteen months since the U.S.-led coalition began its campaign against the Islamic state in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), ISIS remains a formidable force in both countries. Although coalition airstrikes and local forces have taken back some territory in the northern regions, ISIS maintains military momentum, continues to lure recruits internationally, and retains control of substantial areas in Syria’s north and east and Iraq’s west.


Creeping Incrementalism: U.S. Strategy in Iraq and Syria from 2011 to 2015

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Nov 9, 2015

Источник: http://csis.org/publication/creeping-incrementalism-us-strategy-iraq-and-syria-2011-2015

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President Obama’s decision to allow up to 50 Special Forces to deploy in northern Syria has triggered an almost inevitable debate over crossing the threshold from train and assist into deploying combat personnel. So far that debate has taken three forms. One has focused on the president’s past statements about not sending “boots on the ground.” The second has focused on the risk this could be the start of a major combat presence and lead to serious U.S. casualties. The third has focused on whether this step—and the other small increments in the U.S. effort announced after General Joseph Dunford, the Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of staff, visited the region in October 2015—will still fall short of the levels necessary to have meaningful results.

The first form of this debate is political and irrelevant in military terms. It does not judge the merits of the decision and implies that a president should not react to changing conditions – the kind of “gotcha” issue that suits the politics of what have become election years. It is totally dysfunctional in national security terms because it assumes that the president can predict the future and make pledges regardless of how things change and the need to act in ways that serve the national interest.

The second form of the debate touches on a valid strategic issue: whether the United States should send major land combat units back to Iraq and/or into Syria. However, it focuses on an option the United States rejected long ago—a decision that seems even more valid today. Thrusting U.S. land combat units into the middle of the sectarian and ethnic quarrels and fighting in either Iraq or Syria seems almost certain to create new enemies and more divisions in both countries, and confront the U.S. with having to take sides in their internal struggles.

The third form of the debate is all too relevant. Deploying 50 Special Forces forward in Syria is probably a useful step, but it is scarcely a meaningful game changer. Ever since 2011, the United States has failed to develop any grand strategy for either Iraq or Syria, to cope with the emerging civil war in Syria and growing sectarian and ethnic tensions in Iraq, or to take decisive enough military action to make a major impact. The United States has not shown strategic patience. It has instead reacted to events with creeping incrementalism that is largely focused on ISIS and almost exclusively focused on security.

Once one looks beyond the conceptual rhetoric that the administration has issued with each new crisis in Iraq and Syria, it is remarkably hard to see anything approaching an effective level of execution. U.S. actions have never addressed the key issues involved in any meaningful way or shown the United States has a credible overall strategy for Iran and Syria other than simply degrading and destroying ISIS.

Any grand strategic success has to bring lasting security and stability to both Syria and Iraq. It has to go beyond security, and deal with the fundamental problems in politics, governance, economics and demographic pressures that have made both Iraq and Syria failed states.

So far, neither the United States nor anyone else has given an indication it has a strategy for looking beyond security and the use of force. The Obama Administration has focused on fighting ISIS in ways that have done little more than partially contain the “caliphate” in Iraq and Syria. ISIS has had some reversals in Iraq and Syria but still advances in other areas, and increasingly competes with Al Qaeda on a broader regional level.

When it comes to the sectarian and ethnic conflicts in Iraq and Syria, the United States has not developed a clear path to creating a solution to either state’s worst security problems. And, as the later portions of this analysis show, it is far from clear that any measures that have come out of Chairman Dunford’s visit to the region – 50 Special Forces notwithstanding – will be anything more than another step in creeping incrementalism on a military level.

These issues are addressed in depth in a new analysis by the Burke Chair at CSIS entitled Creeping Incrementalism: U.S. Strategy in Iraq and Syria from 2011 to 2015.

The analysis includes the following major sections, as well as detailed maps, figures, and operational cost tables.

The “Impossible” American Grand Strategic Objective: Iraqi and Syrian Stability and Security: Addresses the fact that U.S. strategy and action — as distinguished from conceptual rhetoric — has focused almost exclusively on the security dimension of degrading and destroying ISIS rather than the broader grand strategic objective of bringing stability and security to Iraq and Syria.
It has failed to address both the sectarian and ethnic divisions that have brought both states to civil war, and the political, governance, economic and demographic dimensions of the conflict.

Mission “Possible?” — Relying on Creeping Incrementalism for Security Aid: The mission of helping Iraq and Syria is less challenging, but as the following sections show, the United States has pursued a de facto strategy of minimizing most of its military efforts, reacting after the fact, and making each increment of additional action come too little and too late.
Strategic Incrementalism on the Ground: The United States has never attempted to create the kind of train and assist mission that is needed to develop effective combat capability, has put keeping costs and casualties before effectiveness, and acted in ways that may ultimately increase the level of tension between Arab and Kurd, and possibly sectarian tensions as well. It is unclear how the United States intended to come to grips with the fact that the land operation in Iraq cannot be separated from those in Syria.
Strategic Incrementalism in the Air: The United States has deployed significant air combat forces, but these too have made incremental increases in combat activity that seem largely reactive, and lacking in any public explanation of the strategic rationale for such operations, their impact on air-land operations, and how operations in Iraq and Syria are structured to produce some unified concept of operations.
The Lack of Meaningful Data on the Effectiveness and Ineffectiveness of Strategic Incrementalism: The administration and the Department of Defense have provide only limited largely meaningful data on the overall patterns and effectiveness of land and air operations. Some of these data are questionable at best and seem to deliberately exaggerate what has been accomplished to date.
No Land-Air Effectiveness Data: Just are there is no clear strategy for joint land and air warfare, there are no systematic effectiveness data tying air operations to program on the ground.
Creeping Incrementalism May Be Cheaper, But Is Anything But Cost-Effective: The cost data provided by the Department of Defense raise serious questions about their accuracy, and even more serious questions about the impact of limiting short terms costs in ways that may serious raise the total cost of operations.
The Need for a Broader Strategy for Defeating ISIS and Post-ISIS Security and Stability: This section highlights changes needed in the land and air aspects of U.S. military efforts, and the need to make a start at creating an international effort to help Iraq and Syria recover and build at the political, governance, economic, and demographic levels.
So far, a de facto U.S. strategy of creeping incrementalism has at best partially contained ISIS, has done nothing to reduce the growing internal divisions in either Syria or Iraq, has left Syria open to Russian intervention, and has failed to integrate U.S. security efforts effectively with those of Turkey and U.S. Arab allies. It has proved to be so reactive that events have consistently outpaced every new increment in U.S. military activity, and it at best addresses only part of the strategic challenge –leaving Iraqi and Syrian politics and governance to fracture, and corruption, the economy, and the impact of population pressures and the youth “bulge” to grow worse in both states.

If there are merits to creeping incrementalism, they largely consist of negatives. Creeping incrementalism is no worse than the strategies and actions of any of Iraq and Syria’s neighbors, it is less threatening to Syria’s people than that of Russia and Iran, and has been limited more by the internal divisions in Iraq and Syria than by the shortfalls in U.S. efforts.

One can also argue that it is far cheaper in the short-term than the cost of major military and civil intervention in Iraq from 2003-2011, or the ongoing intervention in Afghanistan. However, reducing the short-term cost of failure is no guarantee regarding future costs, and a cheaper form of failure is scarcely a metric of success.

This does not mean that leaping from creeping incrementalism to massive intervention and “shock and awe” is likely to be any more successful. Throwing massive amounts of U.S. ground forces into deeply divided Arab states, in the face of Iranian hostility, and in the middle of a major struggle for the future of Islam is no more likely to be successful in the future than it was in Iraq. The last few years have also made it all too clear are no good short-term solutions to the broader problems in Iraq and Syria.

The administration does not need to deploy major combat forces, but it does need to articulate a meaningful overall security strategy for air-land operations, for both Iraq and Syria, and for dealing with its allies in the region. It needs strategic communications to explain this strategy credibly and publicly to the American people, the Congress, and our allies. It needs to establish a clear level of conditionality for its military and aid efforts, but also to treat Iraq and its regional allies as real partners. It needs to accept the fact that the most it can hope for in dealing with Russia and Iran is a troubled coexistence and confront them as necessary.

Deconstructing Syria: Towards a regionalized strategy for a confederal country

By: Michael E. O’Hanlon

June 23, 2015

Источник: http://www.brookings.edu/research/papers/2015/06/23-syria-strategy-ohanlon

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U.S. policy towards Syria since the Arab spring uprisings of 2011 has been a litany of miscalculation, frustration, and tragedy for the people of that ill-fated land. The ascendance of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) as the major element of the opposition to the Bashar al-Assad regime may not amount to an imminent threat to American security; indeed, very few Americans have died to date at the hands of ISIL or affiliates. But ISIL’s rise does place at much greater risk the security of Iraq, the future of Syria itself, and the stability of Lebanon and Jordan. It could jeopardize the safety of American citizens as well, given the possibility of attacks by “lone wolves” inspired in their western home by ISIL propaganda, or by westerners returning from the Syrian jihad to carry out attacks at home. Massacres on a par with the Charlie Hebdo tragedy, or worse, could easily occur in the United States. The potency of the al-Nusra organization, al Qaeda’s loyal affiliate, within the Syrian opposition is also of considerable concern.

This paper makes a case for a new approach to Syria that attempts to bring ends and means more realistically into balance. It also seeks to end the Hobson’s choice currently confronting American policymakers, whereby they can neither attempt to unseat President Assad in any concerted way (because doing so would clear the path for ISIL), nor tolerate him as a future leader of the country (because of the abominations he has committed, and because any such policy would bring the United States into direct disagreement with almost all of its regional allies). The new approach would seek to break the problem down in a number of localized components of the country, pursuing regional stopgap solutions while envisioning ultimately a more confederal Syria made up of autonomous zones rather than being ruled by a strong central government. It also proposes a path to an intensified train and equip program. Once that program had generated a critical mass of fighters in training locations abroad, it would move to a next stage. Coupled with a U.S. willingness, in collaboration with regional partners, to help defend local safe areas using American airpower as well as special forces support once circumstances are conducive, the Syrian opposition fighters would then establish safe zones in Syria that they would seek to expand and solidify. The safe zones would also be used to accelerate recruiting and training of additional opposition fighters who could live in, and help protect, their communities while going through basic training. They would, in addition, be locations where humanitarian relief could be provided to needy populations, and local governance structures developed.

The strategy would begin by establishing one or two zones in relatively promising locations, such as the Kurdish northeast and perhaps in the country’s south near Jordan, to see how well the concept could work and how fast momentum could be built up. Over time, more might be created, if possible. Ultimately, and ideally, some of the safe zones might merge together as key elements in a future confederal arrangement for the Syrian state. Assad, ISIL, and al-Nusra could have no role in such a future state, but for now, American policymakers could otherwise remain agnostic about the future character and governing structures of such an entity.

Beyond Partisan Bickering: Key Questions About U.S. Strategy in Syria

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Sep 17, 2015

Источник: http://csis.org/publication/beyond-partisan-bickering-key-questions-about-us-strategy-syria


The second debate between Republican presidential candidates, recent testimonies by the Administration, testimony to bodies like the Senate Armed Service Committee, and statements by more neutral voices like General John Allen, the Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, and General Lloyd Austin III, the Commander of USCENTCOM, at first appear to have little in common. In fact, however, they all find ways to ignore the key issues shaping U.S. strategy in Syria.

The Administration ignores the issues by putting a positive spin on a steadily deteriorating situation. Republican candidates and members of Congress ignore them by blaming the Administration for problems that are now beyond its control and by offering half-defined solutions that cannot work. General Allen and General Austin focus on parts of the problem with few public specifics and no clear picture of an overall U.S. strategy and the issues it raises.

So what are the issues that U.S. strategy in Syria should address? They are not the issues covered by the media, nor are they addressed in the questions raised by members of Congress from either party. The most critical issues raise far more serious questions about the options available to the United States with regard to one of the worst civil wars in recent history, and one that will soon enter its fifth year.

A War of Four Major Factions, Not a War Against ISIS

There is something inherently absurd in the different ways in which the Administration and its Republican critics – along with far too many media reports and think tank comments – focus on ISIS or finding some easy and simple political solution to the fighting. The key question is not defeating ISIS or negotiating some exit for Assad or compromise between Assad supporters and outside exile movements that no serious set of fighters in Syria now care about.

ISIS is only one of four major factions shaping the war in Syria. The Assad regime, which has its own divisions and Alawite militias, is one. The Syrian Kurds are a second, and a group of some 26-30 other largely Islamist factions that include the Al Nusra Front, which is still tied to Al Qaida make up the third. All are fighting for their own space and areas of control. None at this point show any signs of becoming strong enough to achieve the objective of taking over all of Syria, being able to govern, or being able to establish any form of stability and popular security.

The Syria that existed in 2011 no longer exists today, and no one can recreate it. Only the Kurds have some natural boundaries within Syria, but they cannot be separated from their ties to Turkish and Iraqi Kurds. ISIS has taken advantage of two civil struggles – in both Syria and Iraq – and has no natural boundaries to its ambitions. Assad claims to govern all of Syria, but is fighting both ISIS and the loose coalition of other rebel movements for control of the heavily populated areas in western and central Syria. The other rebel movements are fighting both the pro-Assad forces and ISIS.

There are no natural boundaries or viable economic areas that separate enough Alawites from Sunnis to create stable entities without a stable peace, just as the Syrian Kurdish areas have their own mixed populations and links to Kurds in other countries. More than that, more than 4 million refugees have shrunk Syria’s population from over 22 million to around 18 million, and there are well over 7 million internally displaced persons who have lost their homes, jobs, businesses and access to schools and effective medical care.

The Syrian economy probably has about a quarter of the income flow to the Syrian people that existed in 2011, and was badly underdeveloped, and had badly distributed income, and high levels of corruption even then. Much of Syria now lives on aid, or in gross poverty. No one can measure just how bad the situation is, but it is clear that it will take years of peace, stability, and massive foreign aid to rebuild any major conflict zone in the country, and little of Syria’s social structure, governance, or economy will be anything like what it was before.

Put bluntly, any statement – by Republican or Democrat – that focuses largely on ISIS, is inherently dishonest and/or incredibly ignorant. A working strategy has to focus on Syria as it now is, and the factions that actually have influence and power. It may well have to wait until the various factions exhaust themselves and can agree on zones of control, or one comes to dominate, and it may then have to take account of the fact that no agreement will be stable, there will be no security that permits effective reconstruction, only limit numbers of refugees will return, and the displaced will stay displaced on return to cities, homes and jobs that have been largely destroyed. Syria will at best be the land of least-bad options, and least bad is likely to be really bad for at least the next half decade.

Real World Military Options

Given this background, there is a certain absurdity to some aspects of the current debate over military options in Syria. Far too much attention has been paid to the fact that the United States has made so little progress in training some 5,000 Syrian volunteers. The real issue is what on earth would such a force do if the United States succeeded? What would happen if the United States could magically train overnight all of the 15,000 that were supposed to be trained over three years? What are they supposed to do? Where are they supposed to go? Who are they going to be aligned with? What moderate political faction could they back that has enough real world influence to matter?

The only real moderate elements that were fighting in Syria were largely defeated by other rebel factions tied to the al Nusra front in late 2014 and early 2015. A total of 5,000 to 15,000 U.S.-trained forces would still be a token force with no clear moderate political faction with real influence over any of the existing groups of fighters. The only one of the four factions we have been successful in backing has been the Syrian Kurds, and this backing has now run in to major problems because Erdogan has chosen to start a new round of fighting with the Turkish Kurds as part of his effort to dominate Turkish politics. Basing rights in Incirlik has come at a serious cost.

It is also rather striking that no one involved in the public debate over U.S. strategy has asked how our policies and training efforts interact with Turkish, UAE, Saudi, Kuwaiti, Qatari, and Jordanian support of various elements of the other rebel forces that oppose both Assad and ISIS. This is a bloc of fighters that is taking on both Assad and ISIS, but has its own Islamist extremists and sometimes has serious local clashes between its own elements. It is clear, however, that some of these elements are getting outside arms, money, and some training. Unlike the U.S. efforts to train vetted moderates, these other efforts really matter, and discussing U.S. options as if they did not exist is ridiculous.

It is also ridiculous, for that matter, to talk about deploying U.S. troops or U.S. advisors without stopping to think about where they will enter the border areas, how they will be supported, and above all, what factions they will oppose and what factions they will back. At present, the only faction that might support a U.S. presence seems to be the Kurds and they would only do so to achieve some form of autonomy or independence – something that might do even more to alienate the other Arab rebel factions. This is no longer 2012. That real time window to support the moderates is not only closed, it is bricked over.

Non-thinking “No Fly” and “Security” Zones

It is equally dangerous to talk vaguely about “no fly” or “security” zones. A security zone in an unpopulated desert offers no security for any of the displaced, and no meaningful role for rebel forces. The zone the Turks seem to favor is a conflict zone with little capacity to absorb the displaced or refugees, seems designed to help contain the Syrian Kurds, and also designed to help shift the fighting from its present focus on ISIS to one that would affect the Assad forces and other rebel factions.

“No fly” can mean either fixed wing or both fixed and helicopters, and helicopters and barrel bombs are one of Assad’s primary killing and terror mechanisms. It can mean engagement with Assad’s land-based air defenses, and Syrian and possibly Russian fighters. “No fly” does not mean “no move,” and a limited security or “no move” zone would still give Assad missile and rocket attack options. “No move” also would not easily exclude the other rebel factions and forces – creating the risk that the zone becomes a safe area for Al Nusra or other non-ISIS extremists.

None of this means that the United States cannot support other rebel factions or that “no move” or “security” zones can’t work. But any politician, policymaker, senior officer, op-ed writer, or think tanker that does not precisely define what they recommend when they talk about such ideas is spouting vacuous nonsense.

The Air Campaign Must Look Beyond ISIS

The air campaign raises equally serious issues. It does seem to be having a very real impact. General Austin described this impact as follows in his September 16th testimony to the Senate Armed Service Committee,

“Today, despite some slow movement at the tactical level, we continue to make progress across the battlespace in Iraq and Syria in support of the broader USG strategy to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL. We have achieved measurable effects against this enemy; and, looking ahead, we are postured to continue to make progress on multiple fronts across the combined joint operations area. Key to the enduring success of the military campaign is sustained pressure on ISIL, both from the air and on the ground; and, using indigenous forces to help create and sustain that pressure, while also curbing the flow of foreign fighters and cutting off the enemy’s ability to resource himself.

Today, although ISIL is still able to conduct attacks and incite terror, the organization’s overall capability has been disrupted. While Iraq’s security forces have experienced some setbacks, they continue to make progress, enabled by Coalition airstrikes and our advise and assist and building partner capacity efforts. They have executed a number of Coalition-enabled operations against the enemy. In northern Iraq, the Kurdish Peshmerga have performed exceptionally well. The Kurdish-Arab Coalition in northeast Syria also is achieving substantial effects.”

This statement is fine as far as it goes. An air campaign that flew some 7,000 strike sorties in 2014, and more than 15,000 more through the end of August in 2015, has to have had a serious impact. The monthly total of munitions has risen from a low of 211 in August 2014, to a high of over 2800 in July 2015, and there have been some 2,200 additional intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (IS&R) sorties in 2014, and over 6,000 through the end of August in 2015.

The actual impact on any given land battle is less clear, but it certainly seems to have been of major aid to both Syrian Kurdish and Iraqi government forces. The “body count” data on fighters killed issued by a few U.S. and British officials seems to have no credible source or methodology, but the claims striking some 10,600 physical targets as of August 8, 2015 do seem credible. Many are vaguely described and this total included over 10,000 generic “staging areas, buildings, fighting positions, and other” but this seems a valid way to count strikes on a widely dispersed, heavily sheltered, and largely infantry force.

It has also been an air campaign where extraordinary care has been taken to avoid civilian casualties – although no credible estimate of such casualties seems to exist. The level of restraint is indicated by the fact that only some 1,400 of the strike sorties delivered actual munitions in 2014, and 4,700 in 2015. This is some 25% of the total strike sorties in 2015, and less than a third in 2015 – and this ignores the fact the strikes were supported by a total of well over 8,000 additional IS&R sorties.

But, the air campaign is largely an “Iraq first” campaign that is largely decoupled from any clear strategic objectives to bring stability and security to Syria. It is largely directed at containing ISIS while waiting for the unknown day when some combination of Iraqi government forces and the various Iraqi Shi’ite, Sunni, and Kurdish militias become strong enough to liberate most of Iraq. There is no clear picture of what will happen then if Syria is still unstable and ISIS is operating on the Iraqi border.

No U.S. official or officer has ever addressed these issues, and it is unclear that any member of Congress or other outsider has really questioned what the air campaign is doing in Syria in meaningful strategic terms.

Negotiating Some Form of Peace Agreement

This failure to ask hard questions has been equally apparent in reports on negotiating efforts. Russia and Iran seem to be the only outside country involved that have clear goals: They back Assad or the Assad-faction – although most Russian statements only talk about Assad and ISIS and ignore the Kurd and the other Arab rebel groups that are actually doing more to defeat the Assad forces in heavily populated areas than ISIS.

The United States, its allies, and the UN seem to take the position there is some moderate Syrian rebel group that has real standing in Syria. It is far from clear that the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces , Syrian National Council, or any feasible mix of outside political bodies now have major support from the factions actually fighting, broad support from the Syrians still inside Syria, and needed political skills and ability to govern.

Even if Assad is eventually willing to step aside, it is equally unclear that any negotiated settlement reached on the outside will survive engagement with reality, bring stability and security at the local level, and be backed by the massive aid and reconstruction effort that will be necessary. Difficult as reaching any agreement will be, an agreement will be pointless if it cannot resolve the sectarian and ethnic differences in Syria to the point where the fighting actually ends, a half-way effective government is created, and some form of normal life and economy can be created.

So far, the negotiating efforts do not seem to meet any of these criteria. Case after case of failed peace attempts over the last half century are a warning that hope rarely triumphs over experience. Any meaningful U.S. strategy must address these issues as well, and so far, no aspect of the U.S. political debate over Syria really addresses these issues. The U.S aid effort is vital in helping Syrian refugees and IDPs, but the negotiating effort seems to be an increasingly hollow exercise in good intentions at a purely political level.

Administration, Congress, and U.S. Strategic Interests

It is probably an equal exercise in letting hope triumph over experience to suggest that U.S national interests require a far more honest and informed debate, and that waiting until a new Administration comes into office in 2017 to seriously address any of these issues on a bipartisan basis will be incredibly costly to the Syrian people.

It may be equally futile to point out that it will be just as costly to America’s reputation and standing at a time when Putin and Iran are certain to keep up the pressure in support of Assad, and when Israel and our Arab allies have critical questions about the quality and competence of our leadership. And, when the struggle in Syria cannot be separated from key policy challenges to U.S. interest in dealing with Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and the broader U.S. confrontation with violent extremism.

It would be nice, however, if at least one Administration voice, and even one Republican candidate, actually did come to grips with the realities involved. It would be equally nice if the Congress could at least focus partisanship around the real issues necessary to have a meaningful debate.


Iraq and Syria: The Problem of Strategy

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Jun 19, 2015

Источник: http://csis.org/publication/iraq-and-syria-problem-strategy

The United States has now been actively at war with terrorism movements since 2001. Throughout that time, it has struggled to find ways to develop some form of meaningful strategy, measure its progress, and give that progress some degree of transparency and credibility to the Congress, the American people and our strategic partners, and the media.

So far, its success has been erratic at best. On most occasions, the U.S. has issued policy statements that set broad goals, but did not really amount to a strategy. There was no real assessment of the situation and the reasons for selecting a given course of action, there was no real plan and set of milestones to measure progress by, there were no real details as to the required resources, and any supporting measures of effectiveness have often added up to little more than political justification and spin.

The United States has had particular problems in describing its counterterrorism strategy in Iraq and Syria, and members of Congress have quite correctly called for a far more explicit statement of what U.S. strategy is, its justification, and some measures of effectiveness. On June 17, Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey attempted to respond by outlining the Department of Defense’s counterterrorism strategy in testimony before the House Armed Services Committee.

To put it politely, they failed. In fact, if one grades their efforts by the increasingly partisan standards of todays U.S. politics, Democrats in Congress could at best give them a D minus, Republican no higher grade than an F plus, and any mythical moderate could not go higher than an F.

The Outline of a Strategy is Not a Strategy

A summary of Secretary Carter’s testimony issued by the Department’s news service focused on nine key areas of action – most of which were little more than a paraphrasing of the same generalities the White House had issued in its fact sheet on November 7, 2014:

The United States will not let up until it has destroyed ISIL and al Qaida affiliated terrorists that pose dangers to the homeland, friends and allies in the region, the secretary said…Today, 35,000 U.S. forces are postured in the region, allowing the military to «strike ISIL and al-Qaida terrorists and check Iranian malign influence.»

U.S. core interests also assure Israel’s «continued qualitative military edge, and why we’re working with our Gulf partners to make them more capable of defending themselves against external aggression,» he added.

Those interests also are why the United States is supporting efforts for political settlements to crises throughout the region, from Yemen to Libya to Syria, the secretary said.

ISIL presents a «grave threat» to U.S. friends and allies in the Middle East and around the world, from Africa and Europe to parts of Asia…because of its «steady metastasis.» It also threatens the U.S. homeland, he added, based on its avowed intentions to strike and recruit in the United States.

President Barack Obama’s counter-ISIL strategy draws from all U.S. national security agencies to degrade and defeat ISIL…The strategy and military campaign make up a global coalition that reflects a worldwide consensus to counter the ISIL threat. The counter-ISIL strategy is based on nine lines of effort that reflect the «breadth of this challenge and the tools needed to combat it,»

  • First, the crucial political effort to build more effective, inclusive, multi-sectarian governance.
  • Second and third are the DoD-led efforts to deny ISIL safe haven and build partner capacity in Iraq and Syria. DoD, alongside coalition partners, is conducting a bombing campaign from the air, advising and assisting Iraqi security forces on the ground, and training and equipping trusted local forces.
  • Fourth is enhancing collection of intelligence on ISIL.
  • Fifth is disrupting ISIL’s finances.
  • Sixth and seventh are to counter ISIL’s messaging and disrupt the flow of foreign fighters to and from the extremists.
  • Eighth is providing humanitarian support to people displaced by or vulnerable to ISIL.
  • Ninth is protecting the homeland by disrupting terrorist threats.

As Secretary Carter testified, the “effective execution of all nine of these lines of effort by the United States and its coalition partners is plainly necessary to ensure overall success.”

In a separate DoD news report, Chairman Dempsey was quoted as saying, “The nine lines of effort should be considered in the aggregate…This campaign focuses on building partners who are taking responsibility for their own security. As I’ve said before, this is an Iraq-first strategy, enabled by the coalition, but not an Iraq-only one. And, again, certainly not a military-only one.”

The news report went on to say that, “The chairman stressed the need for patience several times in his testimony. He said the U.S. military is at the beginning -of a complex, nonlinear campaign that will require a sustained level of effort over an extended period of time to promote durable regional stability over the long term.’”

There is no indication that Dempsey explained what this broader campaign would be. If anything, the Department of Defense reporting on Dempsey’s testimony seemed to indicate that he was calling for a strategy where the critical effort consisted largely of unilateral changes in the policies and actions of regional states:

We seek a region that is inhospitable to our enemies and that promotes and protects our core national interests…It’s my military judgment that an enduring victory over ISIL can only be accomplished by those nations and stakeholders in the region who have as much and actually more to gain or lose than we do…

The U.S. military has responsibility for just two of what are a total of nine lines of effort, he noted: bombing ISIL targets in support of indigenous ground forces and training and equipping Iraqi security forces.

In all nine areas of action there seem to important areas where the U.S. still has no strategy and/or has little credible chance of effective execution of an action plan.

  1. The crucial political effort to build more effective, inclusive, multi-sectarian governance

The key problem with the “crucial political effort to build more effective, inclusive, multi-sectarian governance” is that simply setting a broad goal is not a strategy. It is not clear what action that United States. is taking to create “more effective, inclusive, multi-sectarian governance” in Iraq.

The DoD press release stated that Carter’s testimony focused on the following points,

Despite the challenges, positive signs exist, the secretary said, noting that he has met with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, Iraqi Kurdistan Regional President Masoud Barzani, and last week with Speaker Salim al-Jabouri of Iraq’s parliament. «They fully understand the need to empower more localized, multi-sectarian Iraqi security forces and address persistent organizational and leadership failures,» the defense secretary told the House panel.

Because a sovereign, multisectarian Iraq is more likely to seal a lasting defeat of ISIL, the United States must continue working with and through the Iraqi government in all actions, including Kurdish and Sunni tribal forces support, he said.

U.S. efforts must reinforce inclusivity and multi-sectarianism and not fuel a reversal to sectarianism, which would make the lasting defeat of ISIL harder, not easier, Carter noted.

…Syria’s battle with ISIL extremists is more complex, Carter said, citing the lack of a legitimate government partner and many competing forces in that country.» Our train-and-equip mission in Syria has been challenging…but the requirement for a capable and motivated counter-ISIL ground force there also means we must persist in our efforts.»

… Despite the challenges, positive signs exist, the secretary said, noting that he has met with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, Iraqi Kurdistan Regional President Masoud Barzani, and last week with Speaker Salim al-Jabouri of Iraq’s parliament. «They fully understand the need to empower more localized, multi-sectarian Iraqi security forces and address persistent organizational and leadership failures,» the defense secretary told the House panel.

Because a sovereign, multisectarian Iraq is more likely to seal a lasting defeat of ISIL, the United States must continue working with and through the Iraqi government in all actions, including Kurdish and Sunni tribal forces support, he said.

U.S. efforts must reinforce inclusivity and multi-sectarianism and not fuel a reversal to sectarianism, which would make the lasting defeat of ISIL harder, not easier, Carter noted.

Like the other statements by senior U.S. officials to date, the Carter and Dempsey testimony did not come close to presenting a comprehensive strategy for Iraq. It did not address the lack of progress in bringing Arab Sunnis back to support of the government, the tensions between Kurd and Arab, the role of Shi’ite militias and Iran, the problems Abadi and al-Jabouri face in taking effective action, the need for supporting civil and civil-military activities by the United states. and other outside states, any conditionality in U.S. aid, or any other key aspect of U.S. action.

More broadly, Carter’s testimony virtually admitted that the United States. had no strategy for Syria. Moreover, it did not address the need to deal with other terrorist and extreme groups like the Al Nusra Front. It did not address the critical issue of Iranian influence in Iraq and Syria, or discuss any aspect of U.S. cooperation with its Arab allies and other states. It did not address the problem of Russia, or deal with the growing humanitarian nightmare in Syria and Iraq and the destabilizing impacts of the fighting and refugees on neighboring states.

Dempsey largely highlighted key problems without describing a strategy or solutions:

The situation on the ground in Iraq and Syria is the result of three converging issues, Dempsey told the panel. The first, he said, is that “several governments are struggling for political legitimacy, because they are not sufficiently pluralistic or they are not sufficiently accountable to their citizens.” The Iraqi government has pledged to create a unity government, he added, but has been unable to do so yet.

“Second, the centuries old Shia-Sunni rivalry has come to the fore,” the chairman said. “Weak states are less able to assert independence amid the tug-of-war between sectarian regional powers.”

Third, there is increasing competition between religiously moderate Muslims and more radical elements, Dempsey said.

“These three challenges, as they intersect, make for an environment that will test the resolve of the region’s security forces,” the general said. “Enduring stability cannot be imposed from the outside in. Stability must be cultivated from the inside out and, importantly, owned by regional stakeholders.”

  1. and 3. DoD-led efforts to deny ISIL safe haven and build partner capacity in Iraq and Syria. DoD, alongside coalition partners, is conducting a bombing campaign from the air, advising and assisting Iraqi security forces on the ground, and training and equipping trusted local forces.

The Carter and Dempsey testimony on “DoD-led efforts to deny ISIL safe haven and build partner capacity in Iraq and Syria, the bombing campaign from the air, advising and assisting Iraqi security forces, and training and equipping trusted local forces was curiously lacking in substance and depth.

It did little more than make some vague claims about airpower, and raise serious questions about the ability to recruit adequate numbers of Iraqis for the train and assist mission. It ignored the lack of progress in the Syrian train and assist mission – an effort that had all of 90 Syrian recruits in March 2015 for a training effort with a goal of training 3,000 to 5,000 in calendar 2015, and that had at most 180 men who had stated training in June 2015 – out of some 6,000 recruits, 2,000 who had been vetted, and 1,500 who had made it through screening.

DoD’s airstrike campaigns in Iraq and Syria have «produced some clear results in limiting ISIL’s freedom of movement, constraining its ability to reinforce its fighters, and impeding command and control,» Carter said. Airstrikes also helped local forces make key achievements, such as the success of anti-ISIL forces that took the key town of Tal Abyad over the weekend…The airstrikes are also buying critical time and space required to carry out DoD’s second line of effort — developing the capacity and capabilities of legitimate local ground forces,» Carter said.

Carter said a combination of disunity, deserters and «ghost soldiers» — who are paid on the books but don’t exist — have greatly diminished the capacity of Iraq’s security forces. Given such challenges, ISIL’s lasting defeat requires local forces on the ground which…the U.S. military will continue to develop and enable.

Putting U.S. combat troops on the ground as a substitute for local forces will not produce enduring results,» he said. Both anti-ISIL campaigns in Iraq and Syria require capable, motivated, legitimate, local ground forces to seize, clear, and hold terrain for a lasting, enduring defeat, he said.

After Ramadi’s fall, DoD and White House officials determined that the existing strategic framework was still the correct approach, but enhanced training of the security forces was needed and the process to equip them was too slow, Carter said.

Essential equipment deliveries, such as anti-tank capabilities and equipment to counter improvised explosive devices have since been expedited to Iraqi security forces and Kurdish and Sunni tribal forces, he said.

…»We also determined that we could enable Iraqi security forces with more tailored advice and assistance, including critical outreach to local Sunni communities»… And based on DoD recommendations, the president authorized deployment of 450 personnel to Iraq’s Taqqadum military base in Anbar province to establish an additional site for advising and assisting the Iraqi security forces, Carter noted.

U.S. forces will also provide much-needed operational advice and planning support to the Iraqi security forces Anbar Operations Center…»We expect that this move will open a new dimension in our and Iraq’s efforts to recruit Sunnis into the fight and to help the Iraqis coordinate and plan the critical effort to roll back ISIL in Anbar province,»

…But the lack of Iraqi security forces recruits has slowed training, the secretary said, adding that while 24,000 recruits were anticipated by this fall, only 7,000 were trained, in addition to 2,000 counterterrorism service personnel…All sectors of the Iraqi government must make a greater commitment to the recruitment and training effort, he said.

Syria’s battle with ISIL extremists is more complex, Carter said, citing the lack of a legitimate government partner and many competing forces in that country.» Our train-and-equip mission in Syria has been challenging…but the requirement for a capable and motivated counter-ISIL ground force there also means we must persist in our efforts.»

Carter vowed to continue airstrikes against ISIL forces in Syria, and to work with Syrian neighbors to impede the flow of foreign fighters into and out of Syria and Iraq. «Success in this campaign can and must be assured…It will take time and require consistent effort on everyone’s part — the entire U.S. government, our entire international coalition, and most importantly, the Iraqi and Syrian peoples.»

As for Dempsey, he was quoted as saying, “We are on path to deliver that which we’ve committed to delivering, which is security forces — not just the [Iraqi security forces], but also the peshmerga and now the Sunni tribes — we are on path to deliver to them the capability to confront ISIL inside of their sovereign territory.” He did not provide any “whens,” “hows,” or “whats” to explain what this meant, or how the U.S. would\ implement this area of action.

Neither Carter nor Dempsey were reported to have provided any indication that meaningful numbers of Iraqi Sunnis could be recruited and trained. They did not show that the United States has a credible approach to limiting or reducing to the tensions between Iraqi government Shi’ite forces and Kurdish forces, or that it has a clear strategy for dealing with Iraq’s dependence on Shi’ite militias and the Iranian Al Quds force. They did not show that there was a clear plan to reequip and restructure Iraqi ground and air forces.

As for Syria, the testimony did not indicate how the United States would “persist” and do in given efforts, to a given end and over some estimate of time. There no projected cost, or indication of what Arab and other outside aid will be provided. There is no indication of what level of capability would be provided relative to what balance of ISIL, Al Nusra, and other violent extremist forces. No mention was made of Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel, the Arab Gulf states, or the broader Kurdish problem in spite of the fact that United States seems to be providing air support to Syrian Kurdish forces.

Creating the Right Kind of Train and Assist Missions

As for specific problems in the U.S. strategy for the train and assist efforts, Carter and Dempsey did not address two long-standing problems. The first is the fact that the train and assist mission is now sharply limited in character and does not involve direct aid to combat troops.

This cedes a critical aspect of the mission to Iran and ensures longer-term Iraqi government dependence on Shi’ite militias and Kurdish forces. It also ignores the fact that key challenge in making the train and assist mission effective does not lie in providing Iraq with more weapons or with forward air controllers – although both steps are necessary. The U.S. needs to act upon a key lesson from Vietnam – and from all past train and assist efforts. Generating or rebuilding forces in the rear is not enough, and is an almost certain recipe for failure. New or weak forces need forward deployed teams of advisors to help them actually fight.

Insurgents cannot be allowed to have a massive intelligence advantage on the ground, to learn the weakest links in the government forces and their defense, attack them, roll-up the weaker units, expose the flanks and position of the better units, and then force them into what as best is partially organized retreat.

No one can create effective combat leaders and forces from the rear. New and weak units need to have a small, but experienced team of combat leaders embedded with them. New combat leaders and units need months of on-the-ground help in getting the essentials of combat operations right. Modern forward air control is critical, and the use of drones can make it effective far beyond the line of sight, but so are human intelligence, and the constant assessment of tactics, defensive positions, and patrol activity.

Forward deployed train and assist teams – usually Special Forces or Rangers – are necessary to spot good combat leaders and warn against weak, ineffective, or corrupt ones. They are needed to provide intelligence backwards that static or inexperienced Iraq leaders and units can’t. They are needed to be a voice for active patrolling. At the same time, they needed to be a second voice when resupply, reinforcement, regrouping, and relief are truly needed. Someone has to bypass the barriers, rigidities, and sectarian/ethnic prejudices in the chain of command and send the right signals to the top. The Iraqis can’t do this yet.

Forward deployed train and assist teams are needed to encourage effective civil-military action in cases where the Iraqi unit has a different ethnic or sectarian bias or simply thinks in tactical terms rather than how to create a local capability to hold, recover, and build at both the military and civil levels.

These teams are needed now! They have been needed in Iraq and Afghanistan from the start. The same is true of a larger and more aggressive air campaign to support them and the overall efforts in both Iraq and Syria. There are times when support from the rear is enough. Several thousand years of military history is a warning that there are no times when leading from the rear is adequate in actual combat.

Making Effective Use of Airpower

The U.S. has shown that airpower can have a critical tactical effect in some cases in both Iraq and Syria. But, it has failed show it has anything approaching a credible strategy for using air power, and the public data it is providing on the overall nature and effectiveness of its use of air strikes seems to be little more than vacuous spin.

The same DoD news article that describes the Carter and Dempsey testimony references a report on Special Report: Operation Inherent Resolve — Targeted Operations Against ISIL Terrorists .

This report presents two tangible pieces of information. One is a map that has been designed to exaggerate gains again ISIL by drawing lines based on its peak areas of advance and that shows the areas where it has actually consolidated power. As a result, it claims that, “ISIL can no longer operate freely in roughly 25 to 30 percent of populated areas of Iraqi territory where it once could. These areas translate into approximately 13,000 to 17,000 square kilometers (or 5,000 to 6,500 square miles).” The latter part borders on the ridiculous since much of the area is desert and no one controls in on a day-to-day basis because no one is there.

The second consists of damage claims as of May 8, 2015. It has no particular strategic value and does nothing to explain or justify the strategy behind the US use of airpower. It simply reports totals by category: exactly 6,278 targets damaged or destroyed, including 77 tanks, 288 HMMWVs, 427 staging areas, 1,779 buildings, 1,415 fighting positions, 152 oil infrastructure targets, and 2,140 other targets.

These numbers have often been surprising static over time, and it is far from clear what value damaging a building, staging area, or fighting position really has, much less hitting 2,140 “other targets,” which make up more than a third of the total. It has no more value than various claims by U.S. officials that U.S. airpower has killed some 10,000-12,500 ISIL and other extremist fighters—claims that raise serious question when other U.S. background briefings indicate that ISIL only had had some 20,000 to 32,000 volunteers as of March 2015.

AFCENT has separately updated its sortie data to cover the entire air campaign through May 31, 2015. These data show that the U.S. had flown a total of 16,164 strike sorties and 5,578 intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance sorties in Iraq and Syria since the start of the air campaign in August 2014. It had also flown 5,872 airlift and air drop sorties, and 10,701 refueling sorties. This is a total of 21,742 strike and ISR sorties, and 38,315 sorties of all kinds.

These data provide a rough picture of total activity, but say nothing about effectiveness and strategy. Moreover, only 3,837 sorties actually released a weapon. This is roughly 1 in 4 strike sorties that actually hit a target, 1 in 6 releases per strike and IS&R sorties, and 1 in 10 ten strikes per sortie of all kinds.

Peak weapons releases have varied sharply by month, but reached a peak of 2,308 in January 2015 and then dropped back to a low of 1,600 in March 2015 before rising back to 2010 in May. The unclassified data on the key targets is uncertain, but most (80 percent or more) seem to have been flown in close support of active ISIL operations in areas like Kobane, Bajii, and the Mosul Dam areas where there was little risk of killing civilians and relatively few seem to have been “strategic” in the sense they struck at ISIL directly.

To repeat points made in earlier Burke Chair studies, the end result is an air campaign whose overall strategy and effectiveness is unclear, and that is strong on total sorties flown (and cost), and weak in terms of both combat power and strategic effect.

It is not the kind of air campaign that can build Iraqi morale, deal with the collapse of weaker units, destroy key ISIL and al Nusra cadres, and cover the period in which Iraqi forces must be rebuilt or provide the kind of force necessary to support a more effective strategy in Syria. If the U.S. wants to limit Iranian influence, increase its influence in Iraq and Syria, buy time for Iraqi force development, and put real pressure on ISIL and Al Nusra, it is going to have to do more.

The U.S. also needs to rethink the steady rise in limits to its rules of engagement, and restrictions on the use of airpower. And, in its strategic communications in describing what it does. The U.S. cannot afford to make avoiding all civilian casualties a strategic objective. It ends in making human shields a constant in every form of irregular and potentially conventional war as well. It also ignores the grim realities of war.

There is nothing humanitarian about saving a small number of civilian lives and opening whole towns and cities up to prolonged occupation by threats like ISIL. There is nothing humanitarian about prolonging wars, producing far higher net casualties, and adding to the massive totals of displaced persons and refugees. The horrors of war are not shaped by a single target or moment in time, but by the cumulative impact of a conflict. There also is nothing cowardly about using force at a distance to strike at forces that butcher minorities, civilians with different religious beliefs, and prisoners of war.

  1. Enhancing collection of intelligence on ISIL

Neither Secretary Carter nor Chairman Dempsey seem to have provided any indication of a strategy for enhancing intelligence collection. Media reporting indicates that the current actual trend may be negative because of problems in maintaining the sorties rates for drones. There is no open source data on Iraqi and Syrian rebel intelligence efforts, or on others aspects of U.S. and allied intelligence efforts to explain this aspect of U.S. strategy.

It is also clear from talking to intelligence experts and officials that there is no coherent guidance to the US defense intelligence community, or the intelligence community in general, as to how to collect intelligence on the ideological efforts of ISIL and Al Qa’ida, or produce net assessments of how the efforts of extremist groups like ISIL compare to the efforts of governments and other rebel organizations and efforts. The focus remains threat oriented around actual hostile activities in a war where strategy requires as much attention to threats posed by the inadequacies and repression of local and host governments, and U.S. misperceptions of the local situation and tactical mistakes, as intelligence about actively hostile movements and forces.

  1. Disrupting ISIL’s finances

There are no open source data on the effectiveness of U.S. efforts to disrupt ISIL finances. There is limited media reporting to indicate that ISIL may have growing financing problems but the scale of any such problems is unclear and other reports indicate that ISIL and other extremist movements have found other ways of raising the =funds they need. . The overall U.S. strategy, methods, allied cooperation, and effectiveness are not addressed in the reports on the strategy hearing.

  1. Counter ISIL’s messaging

Media reports suggest that State Department efforts to counter ISIL messaging have had little effect and been disrupted by internal bureaucratic problems. Other reporting indicates that the Department of Defense has done no better. It is unclear that the U.S. has any coherent strategy or effort in this area.

Statements like the testimony of Justin Siberell – the Principal Deputy Coordinator for Counterterrorism in the State Department’s Bureau of Counterterrorism: Budget, Program, and Policies – to the House Foreign Affairs Committee Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade on June 2,2015 – deserve far more attention. The current effort is at best evolving far too slowly and under-resourced.

Similarly. A statement by Undersecretary of State Richard Stengel to Secretary Kerry on June 9, 2015 – following a meeting in Paris on international cooperation — warns that fundamental changes are required in both the US effort and international cooperation,

When it comes to the external message, our narrative is being trumped by ISIL’s. We are reactive – we think about “counter-narratives,” not “our narrative.” The external message of Pairs, which was summarized in the press as “stay the course” and “the strategy is working, was not well received…We prepared a playbook going into the meeting for inter-agency use and use by the partners, which said the meeting was not going to be business as usual.” This was not reflected in the meeting itself or its outward messaging.

Once again, a policy goal is not a strategy. There is a lack of clear direction from the White House and NSC, as well as interagency coordination, cooperation, and consistency of effort. Senior intelligence officials lack a clear set of priorities to deal with the ideological threat and challenge, both inside and outside the defense intelligence community.

  1. Disrupt the flow of foreign fighters to and from the extremists.

There are no open source data on the effectiveness of U.S. efforts to reduce the flow of foreign fighters to and from the extremists. There is limited media reporting indicating that ISIL is still able to attract significant numbers of volunteers and that relatively easy transit though Turkey is still a major problem

  1. Providing humanitarian support to people displaced by or vulnerable to ISIL

The United States is a major aid donor and plays a key role in aiding Syrian civilians. It is unclear, however, that it has a strategy for dealing with the rising number of Syrian, Iraqi, Yemeni, and other internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees, or for post-conflict recovering in such states. UN reporting raises questions about the overall adequacy of international aid funding and support for refugees.

  1. Protecting the homeland by disrupting terrorist threats

It is not clear that present U.S. strategy for Syria and Iraq will produce a lasting disruption of terrorist attacks. Some experts believe that U.S. military intervention in Iraq and bombings in Syria – along with UCAV strikes on the leadership of such movements — will stimulate ISIL and Al Nusra Front interest in attacks on the United States but this is unclear.

So is the extent to which U.S. operations in Syria and Iraq have reduced the present and future threat.