US training Syrian opposition for defense only against ISIS

posted at 12:01 pm on October 23, 2014 by Ed Morrissey

Almost two months ago, Barack Obama pledged to “shrink ISIL’s sphere of influence … to the point where it’s a manageable problem.” When Americans scoffed for a week at the idea that an incremental approach would work against the genocidal Islamic State, Obama then told the nation that he pledged to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS. Shortly after that, the White House started calling it a “war,” and put together parallel coalitions to conduct airstrikes on ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The airstrikes did almost nothing in either theater to degrade or even manage ISIS, as the radical Islamists advanced on both Baghdad and Kobani.

Critics argued that Obama’s strategy could not possibly work without ground troops. Obama went to Congress to get funding to train Syrian opposition forces to fill that gap, which Congress provided with some misgivings about weapons falling into the wrong hands. Still, Obama insisted that American ground troops would not return to Iraq or go into Syria, relying on the Iraqi army and the Syrian “moderates” to fill the gaps in his “degrade and destroy” policy.

The Washington Post reports this morning that the effort to train Syrian troops falls far short of that policy, and even short of Obama’s original “shrink and manage” policy that drew so much scorn in early September:

The Syrian opposition force to be recruited by the U.S. military and its coalition partners will be trained to defend territory, rather than to seize it back from the Islamic State, according to senior U.S. and allied officials, some of whom are concerned that the approach is flawed.

Although moderate Syrian fighters are deemed essential to defeating the Islamic State under the Obama administration’s strategy, officials do not believe the newly assembled units will be capable of capturing key towns from militants without the help of forward-deployed U.S. combat teams, which President Obama has so far ruled out. The Syrian rebel force will be tasked instead with trying to prevent the Islamic State from extending its reach beyond the large stretches of territory it already controls.

“We have a big disconnect within our strategy. We need a credible, moderate Syrian force, but we have not been willing to commit what it takes to build that force,” said a senior U.S. official involved in Syria and Iraq operations who, like others cited in this report, spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the training program.

Military commanders are reluctant to push Syrian fighters into full-scale battles with well-armed militants if they cannot summon close air support and medical evacuations, mindful of how fledgling forces in Iraq and Afghanistan crumbled without that assistance during the early years of the wars in those nations. But U.S. military aircraft cannot provide that aid without American or allied troops in close proximity to provide accurate targeting information on secure radio channels.

This doesn’t even qualify for “shrink and manage.” One could barely call it a containment strategy, given how little success these groups have had over the past year in dealing with ISIS. It envisions allowing the Islamic State to remain standing for an indefinite period of time while US-led air strikes continue to hit targets outside of major population centers, which ISIS has been hardening ever since that bombing campaign began.

This strategy might work in a hammer-anvil approach, but there is no anvil on which to pin ISIS, and no hammer to drive them either. The Iraqi army can barely hold Baghdad at this point; they are incapable of a major offensive that would drive ISIS forces back onto hardened defensive positions established by Syrian moderate forces, even if the latter actually existed in anything except the Obama administration’s collective imagination. The Kurdish Peshmerga are too ill-equipped and too small to make that kind of sweep, and Turkey is busy hitting their Kurdish allies in the rear.

Business Insider’s Michael Kelley accurately diagnoses the futility of the Obama administration’s approach:

Basically, the two obvious weakness in Obama’s plan are being fully exposed: The US is not willing to partner with current FSA rebels on the ground and is also no longer willing to actively back the rebellion against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Consequently, Assad is using the breathing room to intensify his bombing campaign on FSA areas, including ‘200 air force strikes‘ in 36 hours recently. So it’s unclear how much territory the FSA will actually hold when the US-backed force is ready in late 2015 or 2016. …

It’s unclear how the plan as described would serve to “destroy” and “eradicate” ISIS. As experts have noted since the beginning of the campaign, the elimination of ISIS would require a much stronger commitment.

“If destroying ISIL becomes the near-term policy goal-which seems the likely outcome of saying you are going to ‘roll back’ the group-then 10,000-15,000 troops vastly understates the true commitment, which will actually require years, direct military action on both sides of the Iraq/Syria border, tens (if not hundreds) of billions of dollars, and many more than 15,000 troops,” counterterrorism expert Brian Fishman explained in August.

However, despite the stated goal of the strategy, Obama and US officials are thus far unwilling to put American combat troops in harm’s way in Syria (on top of Iraq).

If Obama is serious about degrading and destroying ISIS, then it will take a lot more than just this effort, which is a cover-the-rear strategy in more ways than one.

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I don’t have a problem with this. Defense is the first thing they should be trained to do, as it’s much less complicated than offense and the rebels don’t have the numbers to effect an offensive operation.

Dusty on October 23, 2014 at 12:09 PM

He only has to keep up Operation Azz-Cover for the next two weeks.

Mord on October 23, 2014 at 12:10 PM

US training Syrian opposition for defense only against ISIS

A half-assed response from a half-assed president.

Color me, NOT surprised. Oh, and King Barack’s “war” does have an expiration date. November 5th.

GarandFan on October 23, 2014 at 12:10 PM

“Operation Inherent Foolishness”

fogw on October 23, 2014 at 12:12 PM

“If Obama is serious about degrading and destroying ISIS…..”

Oh please. Who seriously believes this? It’s all a bunch of bull$hit, just like everything else with this Prevaricator in Chief.

aquaviva on October 23, 2014 at 12:15 PM

This strategy might work in a hammer-anvil approach, but there is no anvil on which to pin ISIS, and no hammer to drive them either.

A pen and a phone make poor substitutes for a hammer and an anvil.

Happy Nomad on October 23, 2014 at 12:15 PM

This doesn’t even qualify for “shrink and manage.”

“Shrink and Manage” That should be the GOP’s mantra for the next 2 years.

That’s a far cry from Hope! and Change!

/Shrink wrap him and shove him out the door with the garbage that he made the Dhali Lama walk through. Chump.

Key West Reader on October 23, 2014 at 12:17 PM

“Peace in our time”.

Ward Cleaver on October 23, 2014 at 12:18 PM

OT: So obama lied about illegals with felonies. Again.

ConservativePartyNow on October 23, 2014 at 12:19 PM

Great news, just in time for election day. Yeah, his policies are on the ballot.

Ward Cleaver on October 23, 2014 at 12:19 PM

Kinetic Military Action circa 2011.

Now folks… that was only Barack’s “Kinetic Military Action”. This thing with Syria? Is it war? Or is it more Obamablather?

All airplane sick bags should come with the “O” Logo. “Kinetic In The Air Vomiting = but it’s not Vomit!”

Key West Reader on October 23, 2014 at 12:21 PM

The ISO strategy, per Obama: When your enemy brings artillery and tanks and rockets and AKs to the fight, we’ll bring an airsoft gun.

No, he never had an intent to even shrink or manage the ISO problem. Just trying to get through the election with minimum casualties (not on the battlefield but in the House and Senate).

Lying traitor.

TXUS on October 23, 2014 at 12:21 PM

Don’t believe a single word from any D-rat.

Schadenfreude on October 23, 2014 at 12:23 PM

A half-assed response from a half-assed president.

Color me, NOT surprised. Oh, and King Barack’s “war” does have an expiration date. November 5th.

GarandFan on October 23, 2014 at 12:10 PM

I hate to disagree with you but I really think he is a complete ass.

VegasRick on October 23, 2014 at 12:23 PM

Just tell O that ISIS needs healthcare, that will get him moving.

Meremortal on October 23, 2014 at 12:28 PM

Proven FACT: Nothing the Mooslim-in-Chief says can be trusted as being even remotely truthful. NOTHING.

Meople on October 23, 2014 at 12:32 PM

If Obama is serious about degrading and destroying ISIS, then it will take a lot more than just this effort, which is a cover-the-rear strategy in more ways than one.

As is standard operating procedure for Obama and the Democrats, it’s all about perceptions over reality.

He only wants to produce the perception of doing something.

To actually do something, he has to act in counter of his worldview, his past actions, and in defiance of his rabid base. To Obama, the problem isn’t really ISIS or Assad – it’s the US and what he believes are our past actions which ‘created’ the challenges in the region.
And when one’s core foundations for making decisions are fundamentally flawed, all decisions made on that foundation are fundamentally flawed.

Athos on October 23, 2014 at 12:35 PM

I almost thought he might have been on to something since the good guys seemed to be making some headway but I guess not. He sure has a weird “leadership” style and I have a really hard time believing that he is taking the advice of any military person.

Cindy Munford on October 23, 2014 at 12:42 PM

Does anyone know if Obamacare covers whiplash from O’s foreign policy debacle? First its down with Syria troops and up with Islamic resistance, now the resistance is unleashed and its down with resistance and Syria, now its up with the Syria troops he was proposing be destroyed. Back and forth, back and forth, first they’re evil now their good and good is evil or are they all just evil. Oh my aching neck…

dominigan on October 23, 2014 at 12:52 PM

It has been clear from the start to anyone (anyone that qualifies as a half-wit or greater) that the only way to make any meaningful progress against ISIS would be a major commitment of US forces. Half assed bombing is not going to cut it.
Having said that, I shudder at the thought of the current CIC sending our troops into harms way, and I say that as the father of 2 US Marines.
Bozo will never let competent military leaders make the important strategic decisions.
I feel bad for the innocents that have, and will be, brutalized and executed by the ISIS animals, but I am praying that Bambi doesn’t start playing war. He can’t make simple decisions, let alone the difficult ones it takes to execute a war plan.

JusDreamin on October 23, 2014 at 12:57 PM

There are no moderate Islamic fighters. ALL of the people who Obama is supporting “against” ISIS are on the side of ISIS.

For a brief period early on there was a secular opposition to Assad inspired by the Iranian “Green” movement, but like the Greens and the earlier attempt at a secular opposition in Lebanon, both of which have been crushed, so too the non-Islamist Syrian opposition was not strong enough to survive the Islamist powers.

Those Islamist powers are not always the majority. In Iran they are very much the minority, but they have been able to dismantle all organized opposition. There is simply no one we can form a coalition with in that part of the world except for Israel that is not itself Islamist.

Okay, there is also Egypt, since they threw off Obama’s attempt to subject that country to Muslim Brotherhood rule, but Obama shuns them for that, so the problem has this other side too: not only is there no one to coalition with but Obama does not want to ally with any Arab-Muslim entity that is not Islamist.

That’s what we get for electing an Islamofascist president. Now ISIS is going to have two years to consolidate and expand unopposed before we even have a chance to get a president who actually wants to oppose them.

Alec on October 23, 2014 at 2:02 PM

Fool me once, your fault. Fool me twice, my fault. As much as I can’t stand the equivocations, prevarications and machinations of The One and his minions, I must agree that we should not spend any more lives and treasure trying to remake Iraq into our image. We have over a thousand years of history and a religious ideology of such blind hate and tribal revenge against us that we’d be pissing in a cat five ‘cane. Don’t have a problema calling His Majesty ‘Obombo’. Just throw in a few nukes. Although, I still have a soft spot in mah haid fer the Kurds. Just sayin’.

vnvet on October 23, 2014 at 2:40 PM