By Matthew Rusling
The U.S.-led coalition has been bombing IS targets for more than a year, but critics contend the strikes are half-hearted at best and too few and infrequent compared to other U.S. air wars over the last 20 years.
While U.S. President Barack Obama has in the past vowed not to put boots on the ground in Syria, the White House announced Friday that it would deploy U.S. ground troops to Syria for the first time, in a bid to assist rebels fighting the Islamic militants.
Less than 50 U.S. special forces troops will be deployed to Kurdish-controlled areas in Syria to help Kurdish and Arab fighters with planning and logistics, the White House said, while insisting that the U.S. troops don’t have a combat mission in Syria.
“Considering the size of the Islamic State, while it will make a difference, that additional edge will be somewhat limited overall,” Wayne White, former deputy director of the State Department’s Middle East Intelligence Office, told Xinhua.
“It certainly will get the attention of IS leadership as perhaps leading to even more forward leaning U.S. action, but IS will not anticipate a major shift on the battlefield,” he said.
While U.S. President Barack Obama promised in the past that no U.S. ground forces will be engaged in combat, experts noted that forces have gradually ramped up and that still more mission creep may occur.
“We already have seen that slippery slope in action as the administration has gone from a limited ground presence in Iraq, to over 3,000 advisers and trainers,” he said.
“As the administration continues to undergo political bombardment from hawkish politicians and winces over the miserable failure of its costly Free Syrian Army training effort, we may see still more mission creep,” White said.
One huge risk for the United States in getting closer to or into the action is what IS hopes for: in the course of some operation, U.S. troops could fall into IS hands and be brutally exploited on tape for IS revenge.
White said the reason IS has not been impacted by U.S. and coalition airstrikes has little to do with the air campaign.
In fact, if the IS was under far more serious pressure on the ground on its over-extended perimeter from determined local forces, the airstrikes could have been part of a decisive one-two punch, he said.
However, the Iraqi Kurds are doing little more than sitting on their previous gains, and the Iraqi Army, despite having over a year to bounce back from its catastrophic June-July 2014 defeats at the hand of IS, has made only marginal gains, White said.
In Syria, the group fighting hard against IS, the Kurdish YPD, is short of munitions in large measure because of Turkey’s objections to more meaningful U.S. military aid, he said.
Yet, in the Battle of Kobani and other fronts where it drove back IS forces significantly until becoming itself overextended and under supplied, the YPD showed what a combination of determined local ground forces and coalition airstrikes could accomplish.
“In other words, most local forces — especially the Iraqi Army — still essentially do not measure up to the Islamic State’s fierce combatants,” White said. Enditem