ME­DIA WATCH A risky Amer­i­can ex­pan­sion in Syria

Pakistan Observer - - EDITORIAL & COMMENTS - The New York Times Few peo­ple are ca­pa­ble of ex­press­ing with equa­nim­ity opin­ions, which dif­fer from the prej­u­dices of their so­cial en­vi­ron­ment. Most peo­ple are even in­ca­pable of form­ing such opin­ions.

ON the face of it, Pres­i­dent Obama’s de­ci­sion to send 250 more mem­bers of the mil­i­tary to Syria to fight the so­called Is­lamic State (ISIS) may seem like a small move. The num­ber is a far cry from the 180,000 Amer­i­can troops who were fight­ing in Iraq and Afghanistan when he took of­fice in 2009. But there is good rea­son to be con­cerned about this ex­pand­ing mis­sion, which in­creases the United States’ in­volve­ment in Syria well be­yond the 50 Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions per­son­nel there now.

In an­nounc­ing his de­ci­sion on Mon­day in Ger­many, Mr. Obama said he wanted to cap­i­talise on the re­cent suc­cess the Amer­i­cans and Syr­i­ans have had in driv­ing the ISIS out of key ar­eas. The Amer­i­can troops will be en­gaged in train­ing and as­sist­ing lo­cal forces and are “not go­ing to be lead­ing the fight on the ground,” he in­sisted.

While Amer­i­can forces will not be lead­ing the ground war in Syria, they will be in­volved in mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions and work­ing with­out proper au­tho­ri­sa­tion from Congress. Un­like the Amer­i­can troops in Iraq, which are fight­ing the ISIS at the re­quest of the Iraqi gov­ern­ment, the troops in Syria will be op­er­at­ing in an­other sov­er­eign na­tion with no clear le­gal right.

Mr. Obama says th­ese new troops will help train lo­cal forces. Syr­ian Kur­dish fight­ers have proved to be quite ca­pa­ble at re­claim­ing ter­ri­tory from both the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment and the ISIS, but the United States is still strug­gling to find a suf­fi­cient num­ber of Arab op­po­si­tion fight­ers who will be needed to re­cap­ture Raqqa, the ISIS’s de facto cap­i­tal in Syria.

It has long been ob­vi­ous that the best way to de­feat the ISIS lies in end­ing the Syr­ian civil war be­tween Pres­i­dent Bashar alAs­sad and op­po­si­tion forces so that all sides can fo­cus on the ter­ror­ists, which Mr. Obama told the Euro­peans is “the most ur­gent threat to our na­tions.” Un­for­tu­nately, a promis­ing month long cease­fire be­tween the As­sad regime and op­po­si­tion forces has be­gun to crum­ble, and with it, faint hopes of re­sum­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions on a po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion.

Rus­sia, which sup­ports the As­sad regime, is Amer­ica’s sup­posed part­ner in en­forc­ing the cease-fire and pur­su­ing a po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion. Yet it has moved heavy ar­tillery into po­si­tion out­side of the key city of Aleppo, rais­ing new doubts about Moscow’s in­ten­tions and its com­mit­ment to a durable peace.

Mr. Obama’s an­nounce­ment of an ex­panded role for Amer­i­can forces came dur­ing a speech in Ger­many that dealt broadly with the need for Euro­pean unity and con­tained an ap­peal for the Euro­peans and NATO to “do more” by join­ing the United States in car­ry­ing out air strikes, con­tribut­ing train­ers and pro­vid­ing eco­nomic aid to Iraq.

De­feat­ing the ISIS re­quires mul­ti­di­men­sional re­sponses, in­clud­ing im­proved Euro­pean in­tel­li­gence shar­ing and se­cu­rity co­op­er­a­tion, as Mr. Obama em­pha­sised. The United States has also opened up a new line of com­bat by mount­ing cy­ber at­tacks against the group’s on­line sys­tems. But in­creas­ing the Amer­i­can mil­i­tary pres­ence in Syria raises se­ri­ous risks and many unan­swered ques­tions. Chief among them are th­ese: What do more troops mean for Amer­i­can in­volve­ment in the fu­ture and how does this war end? —

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