‘No boots’ is recipe for failure
As the Pentagon continues the U.S.-led coalition’s air campaign against the Islamic State, the best military’s professional assessment is that defeating the enemy requires the use of trained and properly equipped U.S. forces on the ground. President Obama has pledged not to send ground troops and does not accept the assessment of the top generals and admirals. In accordance with the Constitution, he will win the argument unless he changes his mind for what he considers to be good reasons.
Top commanders worry about many possible problems, one of which is that, lacking ground forces, a U.S. pilot forced to eject by mechanical breakdown or enemy fire would wait a long time to be rescued. It could be a disaster if the Islamic State captured a female American pilot who landed safely after ejecting over enemy territory. The Islamic State has man-portable air-defense systems (“manpads”) in large numbers, and these can hit aircraft flying below 10,000 feet. Search and rescue is dangerous enough when helicopters have to fly short distances, but when they have to fly hundreds of miles, as in the current situation, their chances of success rapidly decrease.
If Mr. Obama and members of his administration do not admit their strategy is a mistake and the fighting turns into failure without ground troops, they will blame the commanders. They now blame the intelligence community for lack of warning about the Islamic State threat — even though this threat was earlier reported in the Presidential Daily Brief. The terrorists will not march into open deserts where they can be destroyed by U.S. firepower. Rather, as in Gaza, they will seek cover in hospitals, schools and houses in the cities and towns they now occupy. Attacking from the air is useful, but it won’t succeed without ground forces that can clear and occupy enemy terrain and seize contested positions.
Senior officers have a choice. They can obey orders to carry out a failed strategy, or they can put in their termination papers and resign. Resignation by senior officers should not be done to embarrass the president, but rather to point out the gravity of the Islamic State threat and the generally bad situation into which our armed forces have been placed by the administration.
The United States is fighting with many old weapons, aircraft and ships. We are losing our naval superiority as the government slashes the Army’s strength and reduces the Air Force to its lowest strength ever. Meanwhile, the Islamic State has forces consisting of tens of thousands of jihadists, high morale, plush funding and modern arms from Russia and the United States, in the latter case captured weapons.
U.S. airstrikes have been described as ineffective by members of Congress. Further, Mr. Obama gave the Islamic State a tactical advantage when he said that there would be no U.S. boots on the ground. Anytime U.S. citizens are attacked by terrorists, those terrorists must brought to justice or killed like they kill their many victims.