By Joe Padgett:
Talks about next steps for U.S. involvement in Syria have continued to ebb and flow through news and trending topics. Most of the time it appears for a while before falling away again to be forgotten until a politician needs to garner a little bit of attention. However, we must actually look into the possibilities that lie ahead of us as the inevitable clash draws closer. We should refrain from placing boots on the ground into situations that can cause political turmoil, place soldiers in positions where they cannot act on their skills, reverse policies, and lead to unwarranted death, injuries and illnesses among service members.
First, take a look back to September 11, 2001. The United States is attacked by a terrorist group operating from Afghanistan called Al-Qaeda. By the end of the year, the United States military was inside Afghanistan hunting the leader of the terrorist group, Osama Bin Laden. The “Global War on Terror” was on, and the world was watching it like a new season of “Survivor.”
After reports of possible weapons of mass destruction inside of Iraq, the United States ordered them to allow United Nations inspectors into the country to verify otherwise. After Iraq failed to comply with the demand, the U.S. invaded the country in March of 2003. We had a plan to be in and out within a matter of months after toppling the Saddam Hussein Regime. Within 21 days, U.S. and allied forces from Britain reached Baghdad and were told “mission accomplished.” However, nine years and 4,485 American lives later, we withdrew in 2011.
Today there is no plan outlining what we are doing in Syria, yet there are talks of placing troops on the ground. We saw in Operation: Iraqi Freedom that even if you have a plan it runs the risk of over involvement. It also could lead to a stalemate as the soldiers on the ground hold valuable territory without a clear end goal. Even after ongoing talks between the UN, Russia and Syria we still do not know what to do. The strain between the United States and Russia is near the breaking point, and putting boots on the ground will only serve to complicate an already unstable situation. It would signal the complete breakdown of attempts to resolve the conflict by use of other means. A man who has seen plenty of wars in his time, War Correspondent Joe Galloway, once said “war is such a confession of failure of diplomacy and leadership.”
Over the past decade we have proven we can occupy a country, but at what cost? We cannot afford to send soldiers into the middle east over political squabbles. Even today, our “advisors” and “trainers” inside of Iraq are being killed in action while playing a “non-combative” role. Even if we did go into combat inside of Syria, the U.S. military is faced with another issue. Over the past decade, war has been at the forefront of mass media. This constant view inside what war really is and the resulting outcry has caused stricter Rules of Engagement. Rules which require investigation even if a soldier felt threatened, and fired a warning shot at a vehicle that was traveling towards their convoy at high rate of speed and on the wrong side of the road, something that I personally witnessed during my deployment to Iraq. This puts soldiers in a position to think firing their weapon is seen as the incorrect action to take; the exact opposite mindset you need a warrior to have. They need to be ready to engage and destroy the enemy, without the fear that they may be persecuted for it. War is ugly, and sometimes ugly decisions have to be made in order to preserve life.
Over the past eight years, policy changes within the government aimed at cutting defense spending have also caused a major reduction in the size of the military. Thousands of soldiers have been released from service under forced reduction standards causing the military to become even smaller. If we were to place service members in Syria with a long-term plan to hold territory, we would have to once again start deployment rotations. With our current force that would mean more deployments at an ever increasing pace until the ranks are once again bolstered by a recruitment effort that would likely rival that of the 2007 to 2008 surge. This in turn will reverse all efforts that we have made to reduce the budget and again plunging us into mass spending on defense. Something that many Americans never want to happen again.
Lastly, we must look to service members who will be asked to continue to endure high operational tempos in war zones. Over the past 15 years, the constant deployments have taken a toll on those who have been asked repeatedly to go. More and more troops are coming home to Veterans Affairs hospitals that are backlogged with patients, leading many to die or have serious complications while waiting to get seen for injuries and illnesses from deployments. And others, unfortunately, take their own lives as they attempt to cope with the stress they have accumulated over the course of their military career. Around 20 veterans per day take their lives, according to reports from Veterans Affairs. In 2015, 475 active duty and reserve service members from across all branches committed suicide throughout the year, according to reports from the annual Pentagon report. Whether it is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), survivor’s guilt, or other ailments that led so many to such an end, it is a reminder that life does not stop while you are in combat. Many of the things that a service member sees and does remain with them for the rest of their life. But, the people at the top often do not think about the service member on the ground in grand scheme, causing veterans to become the true victims of the war culture that has developed in the United States.
So, if you were to ask me if we should put boots on the ground in Syria, I would have to say “no.” From mission creep due to lack of planning, to the wellbeing of troops in a conflict that does not directly require military intervention, the use of troops in Syria would have no positive outcome. It would also likely continue to strain what little relationship remains between the U.S. and Russia as we continue to spiral into a new version of the Cold War. While I think that we must maintain a strong posture by completing air sorties throughout the area, placing ground troops would prove to be ineffective and would lead to unwarranted loss of life.
Joe Padgett is an OpsLens Contributor and former U.S. Army combat medic.