U.S. troops heading to Syria in turnaround for Obama

President Obama speaks during a press conference at the White House earlier this month. (Getty Images / Olivier Douliery)

President Obama speaks during a press conference at the White House earlier this month. (Getty Images / Olivier Douliery)

If you like your health plan, you can keep your health plan.

If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor.

If you like your Syria without American boots on the ground, you can keep your Syria without American boots on the ground (via the Associated Press):

“A small number of U.S. special operations forces will be deployed to northern Syria to work with local ground forces in the fight against Islamic State militants, senior U.S. officials said Friday, marking the first time American troops will be working openly on the ground in the war-torn country.

“U.S. officials said President Barack Obama ordered the deployment of fewer than 50 commandos to help coalition forces coordinate with the local troops.

“Although the number is small, it marks an escalation of U.S. involvement in the fight against the Islamic State, which controls a large part of northern Syria and has its self-proclaimed capital in the Syrian city of Raqqa.”

It would probably be best to phrase this as “fewer than 50 commandos (for now),” given the way officials including Defense Secretary Ash Carter have been publicly acknowledging an overhaul of our strategy in Iraq and Syria. While this first group will be “work(ing) with local ground forces,” and though White House spokesman Josh Earnest said this afternoon these troops do not have a “combat mission,” Carter has also spoken about the possibility of unilateral ground attacks. If that happens with any frequency, we can expect the number of U.S. troops to exceed 50 eventually. Keep in mind, the president — as Earnest just confirmed — is sending these troops under the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force. So the administration is working with a lot of latitude.

This is quite a change of heart for the president, who pledged not to put boots on the ground back in 2013 when he was making the ill-considered case for striking Syria after its dictator Bashad al-Assad crossed his ill-considered “red line”:

“Many of you have asked, won’t this put on us on a slippery slope to another war? … My answer is simple: I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria. I will not pursue an open-ended action like Iraq or Afghanistan. I will not pursue a prolonged air campaign like Libya or Kosovo.”

It’s a policy Obama has reiterated since then. Nevertheless, the U.S. has launched hundreds of air strikes in Syria over the past 13 months. Now we are putting troops on the ground in a country where Russia has recently joined the fray. While Washington and Moscow have sought a way to play nice in Syria’s skies, our objective of backing the anti-Assad rebels against ISIS seems in conflict with Russia’s objective of beating back Assad’s opposition. What happens now that we will have more than just warplanes in the skies?

Godspeed to the troops heading to Syria. But let’s not pretend we can be certain just how limited the role for them, and possibly many more of their fellow soldiers, is going to be.

Reader Comments 0

55 comments
lvg
lvg

Love how the cons and Kyle  are complaining, qivering and quaking because Obama is directly challenging Russia's failed adventure in Syria.Kurds with US assistance are advancing. Found it interesting that 5,000 Yazidis who were almost wiped out by ISIS have joined Kurdish forces and in direct challenge to Russia, Israel bombed Hezbollah and Iranian missile sites in Syria past few days. And then there is Vladmir's civilian plane that appears to have been blown up by terrorists. Yes things look really bad for US involvement in fighting ISIS don't they?????

PudHead
PudHead

What another lie from a politician, say it ain’t so…..

DawgDadII
DawgDadII

Obama owns this. He gave back US held territory that enabled ISIS to gain a foothold in Iraq and vacated our means of containing the civil conflict in Syria. ISIS controls Iraqi territory formerly occupied by my son and his friends and peers of that generation. Obama's bumbling has resulted in the massive refugee invasion in Europe and the societal destabilization that has caused. One has to wonder, is he just incompetent?

LDH2O
LDH2O

@DawgDadII One has to wonder why the US should be there defending another country's territory with our own soldiers and blood. One also has to wonder why anyone would think that we should be containing a civil conflict in Syria. Containing crime here, yes; civil war there, NO. so, yes he owns keeping us from bleeding where we should not be. Involvement, support, all yes but holding territory, NO, NO and NO.

stogiefogey
stogiefogey

As I listened to Josh Earnest say that our military personnel would be in Syria in an "advisor" capacity I had to laugh. Our entanglement in these foreign quagmires more often than not seems to start with advisors.

Ike sent "advisors" to Vietnam, we know where that went. 

JoelEdge
JoelEdge

Where are all the peace protesters? Seems like they disbanded back in 08/09 for some mysterious reason.

332-206
332-206

Perhaps the President should continue to await a Congressional response to his February request...

lvg
lvg

Great counter to Russia, Iran  and Syria's ethnic cleansing- driving Sunnis out of Syria and great counter to our Muslim fundamentalist allies Saudi Arabia and Turkey  who have countered our efforts.  Its about time we partner up with the Kurds who are the only ones truly fighting ISIS and winning and the only ones rescuing Christians and other minorities.

According to Israeli News, Russian and Iranian troops are not accomplishing much on the ground and getting pushed back by ISIS. Iranian Revolutionary Guard getting slaughtered.Turkey can forget about attacking Kurds with US joining them and Saudis  are giving up on ISIS  especially with US refusing to join in the fight in Yemen. Too complex for the Cons to understand so they will just complain as usual and hope US fails.

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

Obama's missed opportunities leave him with none, other than going back on his word.

Obama's bubble just popped.

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

One of the guiding principles of Obama's foreign policy is "do just enough not to get laughed at".

Another is "destroy America's standing as the lone superpower".

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

[Obama] is sending these troops under the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force

--------

The messiah admits that Bush was right.  Again.  Right on TARP, right on anti-terror programs, right on tax cuts, right on using force in the Middle East.

M H Smith
M H Smith

If it goes Varoom or Kaboom spending is no problem.  

ATLAquarius
ATLAquarius

Kyle


Great job on pointing out that the President reversed himself toward your position. A no win situation that he probably needed to be much clearer from the start on the one hand and not using some of the language he did on the other. When will it be safe to expect to hear policy positions on this from the GOP candidates without them arguing media bias? I'm absolutely fascinated to hear their plans.  

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

@Kyle_Wingfield @ATLAquarius So, no opinion on if this is the "right" or "wrong" decision? 

It's just "bad" because a politician changed his mind due to changes in circumstances? 


Just wanted to check on this. :) 

TicTacs
TicTacs

Leave the Middle East to the Middle East,  Russia can't afford to be there and are not a concern.


And then cry about spending...

TBS
TBS

This will end up being another bad ME foreign policy move by the US. May as well be a broken record when it comes to the US in that region

Best of luck to the troops and I hope I'm wrong but this isn't going to turn out that well

McGarnagle
McGarnagle

Damn if you do damn if you don't for Obama on this issue. But think sending a small elite unit is much prefer then an army division. By now we probably have better intel on the different factions in Syria.

bu2
bu2

@McGarnagle


I'm guessing he figured out that he needs better intelligence so we don't do repeated attacks against hospitals with none of the enemy around them.

MarkVV
MarkVV

To put in parallel an intention to make a health plan work a certain way, and an intention to deal with a foreign situation in a certain way is either evidence of incredible ignorance or, more likely in this case, a desire to make a political point regardless of any sense of reality. The only thing those two situations have I common is that the President believed that both could be achieved. But in foreign affairs any such intention must always be considered tentative and subject to change depending on developments.

Bruno2
Bruno2

Logical Dude: If you think there are easy answers either way, then nope. It's complicated. 

IMO, removing force as an option only further complicates the situation because it emboldens the evil people in the world, leading to greater evil.  Kind of reminds me of the situation here in the US with so many people openly defying police orders, and (most) liberals think the cops are supposed to just stand there and take the abuse.


P.S. I posed a question to you in the thread below asking what the main issues will be for you heading into the next Presidential election.

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

@Bruno2 Force should definitely be on the table. But force against whom? 

(awaiting Kyle to clear my response to the thread below - good questions)

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

"The tide of war is receding," he said. "When I took office, roughly 180,000 troops were deployed in both these wars, and by the end of this year that number will be cut in half -- and make no mistake, it will continue to go down."  Barack Obama


He should have added until I send the number back up.  


Just another blow hard, who hasn't been seen since he had his staff wordsmith this developments to try and Clinton his way out of his reversal.  

MarkVV
MarkVV

@RafeHollister According to your comment, the only thing any President should do in any foreign policy situation would be never to say anything about the plan of action. In which case, if the President were a Democrat and especially if he name were Obama, the Republicans would attack him for that. Intelligent people know that the President and the US cannot anticipate, and even less control, situations elsewhere in the world. It is, as a matter of fact, a responsible thing to adjust plans depending on the changing situation.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

Eventually Assad will have to go. Putin or no Putin


Syria is a majority Sunni country and Assad, who is Alawite, has gone too far in his repression of the Sunni majority


They will never accept him back as leader. 

Bruno2
Bruno2

@Hedley_Lammar The Sunni/Shiite divide makes our racial problems seem tame by comparison here in the US.

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

@Hedley_Lammar He will be there when Obama waves goodbye.  Remember Obama said Assad's days were numbered,but  I don't think he realized he had fewer days than Bashar.

straker
straker

I voted for Obama because he promised to END our involvement in these useless Middle East wars.


That was before I knew that it is The-Military-Industrial-Complex who actually decides where and how many troops we deploy.


This is because they've made it crystal clear to Democrats and Republicans that the profits MUST keep flowing in if same said politicians expect their hefty campaign contributions to continue.


Only in America.

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

Common enemy ISIS should be defeated. US is putting a toehold in case Assad falls, and the possibility of a US friendly (bought?) regime can be put in place. 

The  situation is too complicated for "with us/against us" type of situation. "Working with Syria" to coordinate "boots on the ground" could be seen as working with Assad, even though trying to overthrow Assad at the same time can be troublesome.  

If you provide help to Assad, you assure his unliked power for the foreseeable future. 

If you provide help against Assad, you risk that help going to ISIS. (See recent articles about how ISIS got all those Toyota vehicles.) 

If you think there are easy answers either way, then nope. It's complicated. 


Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

Considering Obama inherited the wars of choice Bush started he has done a fine job.


And i'm pretty sure the American people don't have the stomach for more body bags coming home from the ME. 


Sending 50 or so advisors ( Yes I have heard of Vietnam ) is just that. Nothing more. 

HDB0329
HDB0329

@Hedley_Lammar  I'm thinking that in order for the airstrikes to be more effective, the US needs forward air controllers to spot and line up targets.....if that's the job of the 50 troops....it's what has been needed for a while.....

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@HDB0329 "if that's the job of the 50 troops"

From what Earnest said today, it doesn't sound like that's the case.

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

A day late and a dollar short is the Obama military "strategy" or what passes for one.  A totally ineffective and inept President.

JFMcNamara
JFMcNamara

Times have changed in two years.  I thought you wanted to go to Syria anyway.  BTW, I don't really want to go.  I do think its a slippery slope, but Russia and Iran are there in a large capacity now where they weren't before. It's now a full on proxy war.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@JFMcNamara "I thought you wanted to go to Syria anyway"

As I wrote at the time two years ago, I never heard a sufficient justification from Obama for what he wanted to do. I'm not sure I've heard one for this action, either. The strategy, such as it is, is totally reactive. 

JFMcNamara
JFMcNamara

@Kyle_Wingfield @JFMcNamara  , I highly doubt that it is reactive in the nature I interpret that you mean it.  It is in reaction to the moves made by others, but not because they were caught flat footed or unprepared. Just because he didn't tell you the plan, it doesn't mean there isn't one.


He doesn't really owe us justification for his actions either. If he had given justification, they very likely would have changed foreign policy.  You don't really want to show all your cards in a poker game.  We'll see it play out over time. 

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@JFMcNamara "You don't really want to show all your cards in a poker game."

Well, I do agree with that -- and wish this president wasn't in the habit of announcing the departure dates of our troops months and even years in advance.

That said, I think a fuller explanation of what we hope to achieve -- and, most importantly, why we think actions like this will help us achieve it -- are an obligation of the CiC.

ProfessorD
ProfessorD

@JFMcNamara @Kyle_Wingfield  "He doesn't really owe us justification for his actions either."  I'm not sure of your political persuasion, but this comment is interesting to me.  Do you believe the POTUS doesn't have to justify to the people why we choose to send in troops?  At least to the people's representatives in Congress?  This seems exactly what got most of my liberal friends up in arms with Bush.  Where was the accountability?  Where was the transparency?  How could you send in troops without all of the "right" information?  How does this not lead us to another endless fighting campaign?  The Bush decision wasn't a wrong decision with the information at the time, but the end game was never really identified, which gave us purpose for being there.  I see this happening again under President Obama.

Kane337
Kane337

Prayers and thoughts for these brave warriors and their families. I hope no harm comes to them. I don't have good faith that our current leadership will have their backs if they encounter trouble. 

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@Kane337 I don't have good faith that our current leadership will have their backs if they encounter trouble. 


Sickening


I do. They have a lot of their backs by not sending them in the first place.


Ala Bush in Iraq. 

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

@Hedley_Lammar Yep, understaffed, probably under armed, and more than likely given a restricted rules of engagement necessary to respond to hostility, just the opposite of what they teach at West Point.   This increases tremendously the risk to these brave individuals. 

LDH2O
LDH2O

What is the point of this article? Obama did not want to send troops but when the situation changed (recruiting moderates failed) he was willing to be flexible - the sign of a good leader.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@LDH2O "willing to be flexible"

Well, that's quite the euphemism for repeatedly stating he wouldn't do something, and now doing it.

LDH2O
LDH2O

@Kyle_Wingfield @LDH2O   So is it better to you to not do something that is now indicated solely because you said that you would not in the past?

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@LDH2O No, it's better not to repeatedly say you won't do something when you don't know if you'll be able to keep that promise. Such as setting red lines you can't enforce and ruling out actions you later may have to take.

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

@LDH2O

Like when he sent a message to Putin through Medvedev?

A request that Putin give him space until after the mid-terms, at which time he (Obama) would be more flexible?

What was he intimating, exactly? That he would bend over backwards in deference to Putin?

schnirt