By Rene Sotolongo:
When it comes to warfare, no one will argue that air superiority is an absolute necessity. But air superiority and air strikes should be part of a battle plan…not THE battle plan. Therein lies the problem.
The Obama administration is proposing “limited military airstrikes” as a means of forcing Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad to return to negotiations. But Iran and Russia are both backing al-Assad. And so the Obama administration is confronted with a conundrum.
The Obama administration has a long-standing objection to striking the Assad regime without a United Nations Security Council resolution. But Russia is a permanent member of the security council. As a permanent member, they have veto power. So even if the U.S. could get a unanimous decision, Russia could still veto the resolution. And they have, repeatedly.
The Obama administration now faces either adhering to their guideline of not striking Syria without a resolution or to carry out the strikes covertly. In other words, lying to the American public and the rest of the world.
“One proposed way to get around the White House’s long-standing objection to striking the Assad regime without a U.N. Security Council resolution would be to carry out the strikes covertly and without public acknowledgment.”
So what we are we looking at now? We are looking at “covert” airstrikes by the U.S. into Syria that is well defended by Russian anti-air systems. How long before one of our aircraft is shot down? It is almost surreal. All of this reminds me of the movie “Behind Enemy Lines” starring Gene Hackman and Owen Wilson. Owen Wilson plays a pilot that is shot down in Bosnia behind enemy lines. And is then forced to run for his life and attempt to get back to friendly territory. Given the situation in Syria, how long before that story becomes a reality for one of our Service members?
…air superiority and air strikes should be part of a battle plan…not THE battle plan.
The reality is Obama has shown, time and time again, that he simply will not commit ground troops. But ground troops are exactly what is needed. For proof that airstrikes alone are insufficient, all we have to do is to look at the results of our airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and other areas. Report after report confirms it: Why Airstrikes Against ISIS May Not Be Enough by the Wall Street Journal, GOP to Obama: Airstrikes Not Enough To Stop ISIS in Iraq by CBS News, ISIS Fighter Says U.S. Airstrikes Aren’t Effective, by CNN and the list goes on.
So if airstrikes have not worked in Iraq for over five years against ISIS and other extremists, what makes the administration think that it will work in Syria?
Now add in Russia’s support of al-Assad. Case in point: In September, a U.S.-Russian effort to broker a ceasefire collapsed amid mutual recrimination. And as a result, Assad’s forces backed by Russian air power launched an assault on rebel-held eastern Aleppo.
And it gets worse.
This October (2016) Russia sent more air defense missiles to Syria. Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said, “a battery of the S-300 air defense missile systems had been deployed to Syria. The deployment adds more punch to the Russian military force in Syria. This force already includes long-range S-400 missile defense systems and an array of other surface-to-air missiles at the Hemeimeem air base in Syria’s coastal province of Latakia.”
The S-300 missile system is a sophisticated long-range system capable of striking enemy aircraft and cruise missiles up to 250 kilometers (155 miles) away.
The S-300 deployment announcement came just one day after the U.S. announced it was suspending direct diplomatic contacts with Russia. Washington’s decision followed the collapse of the Russia-U.S.-brokered cease-fire in Syria and the Syrian army’s onslaught on Aleppo backed by Russian warplanes.
Which makes our point: al-Assad was losing the ground war. But with the help of Russia and a combination of air and ground forces, Assad has turned the tides. If we stand any chance of “winning” we must go on the offensive.
We also face another challenge, the specter of collateral damage. Whether we like it or not, our enemies will use the images of civilian collateral damage to their advantage. And lest we forget, our enemy has no compunction about hiding and taking shelter in schools, hospitals, and residential areas. Remember, it’s just not Assad were fighting in Syria, but ISIS as well.
Yet this administration believes “airstrikes” are the answer. Senator John McCain said it best when criticizing Obama on airstrikes in Iraq: (which bears a striking resemblance to the situation in Syria…almost prophetic.)
“Launching three strikes around a place where a horrible humanitarian crisis is taking place…is clearly very, very ineffective, to say the least,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told CNN. The president said he was acting to protect American personnel in the country and stave off a humanitarian crisis…
“That’s not a strategy. That’s not a policy. That is simply a very narrow and focused approach to a problem which is metastasizing as we speak.”
We have all heard it before; “those who do not study history are condemned to repeat it.” You would think this administration would have learned from its mistakes in Iraq. But instead, it seems this administration is hell bent on pursuing the same strategies that failed in Iraq against Syria.
That is why we need ground troops AND airstrikes. By placing our troops “in harms way,” we put Assad and Russia into a very difficult position. They will be forced into having to kill American troops. And that is not something the American people take lightly.
In short, Russia and Assad both know if American troops start dying, there will be hell to pay. Placing our troops in Syria (even if for just humanitarian reasons) will act as a deterrent. Assad and Russia both will have to think twice before mounting any type of offensive.
Bottom Line: airstrikes alone, without the support of ground troops, are ineffective. History has proven it. We are once again setting ourselves up for failure.
Rene C. Sotolongo is an OpsLens Contributor and a retired U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer who served for over twenty years as an Information Systems official. Sotolongo also specialized in homeland security and counterterrorism.