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      Does The US Need Ground Forces To Fight ISIS In Iraq, Syria? The Impact Of Airstrikes Vs. Combat Troops

      By @alessandriamasi a.masi@ibtimes.com on September 17 2014 9:01 PM EDT

      IraqIraqi security forces inspect the site of three explosions in the New Baghdad neighborhood Wednesday. Reuters

      Determined to counter fears that America may find itself bogged down in another war, the Obama administration insists the U.S. won't send troops to fight the Islamic State in a “combat role” in either Iraq or Syria. Echoing President Barack Obama's comments, Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday there has been no discussion to send ground troops to Syria “at this moment.” But experts wonder if the threat posed by the Islamic State can be eradicated by a second air campaign in Syria.

      The U.S. is currently fighting the militant group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in both Iraq and Syria using airstrikes and has sent over 1,200 U.S. troops to Iraq. The U.S military personnel there are not combat troops but "military advisers" sent to help Iraqi and Kurdish forces, says the White House. On Wednesday, Congress approved additional funding to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels who are supposed to be America's allies on the ground.

      The refusal to use combat troops -- to put boots on the ground, as the phrase goes -- means that the U.S. must win from the air, coordinating with those allies in country.

      Airstrikes have their benefits, the biggest being a much lower casualty rate for U.S. troops. So far in Iraq, the U.S. has been using high-flying fighter jets and drones to drop bombs on the militants, which greatly minimizes the risk of planes being shot down and pilots getting captured.

      But airstrikes have their limitations. They run the risk of significantly increasing civilian casualties. While ISIS has some known strongholds -- in Raqqa, Syria, for example -- which could be neutralized by airstrikes, their other hideouts will not be as easily targeted. Last week, the CIA estimated that the militants could have up to 31,500 fighters sprinkled across Iraq and Syria. They operate in clandestine cells in many parts of Iraq, Syria and elsewhere. The more the U.S. bombs them from the sky, the deeper they go underground: That could make the air campaign less effective while also endangering more civilians.

      “If the U.S. only uses air power, ISIS will eventually hide in the cities and the U.S. will be faced with causing a lot of civilian casualties to get the group out or kill its fighters,” said Dr. Ivan Eland, author of the "The Failure of Counterinsurgency: Why Hearts and Minds Are Seldom Won."

      Ground troops, on the other hand, would involve a significantly higher casualty rate for the U.S. As of April 2014, more than 6,800 American men and women have died in Iraq and Afghanistan since the U.S. led a ground invasion in 2003. Ground forces in either Syria or Iraq would also be very expensive. The 2003 Iraq and Afghanistan invasion will ultimately cost taxpayers $4 trillion to $6 trillion, including the cost of treating veterans, according to a Harvard study published last year.

      The Pentagon has said that a ground attack could be necessary to successfully eradicate the militants while minimizing civilian casualties. Gen. Martin Dempsey told a Senate panel Tuesday that he's not ruling out the possibility of troops on the ground. But Obama's and Kerry's comments the following day were clearly intended to walk back any perception that combat troops would be sent.

      “The U.S. military is right that you can't win without troops on the ground," says Eland. "The problem is that despite technological military superiority of great powers, including the United States, it doesn't count for very much. Counterinsurgency is mostly political. So it is actually better to use local forces on the ground, despite their technological inferiority. The use of U.S. ground forces to fight ISIS is unlikely to be successful.”

      So far, Obama’s answer to having someone on the ground verifying targets is to arm and train rebel forces in Syria (now with congressional funding) as well as Iraqi and Kurdish allies in Iraq.

      The problem is that in Iraq and Syria, the U.S. doesn’t have much to work with on the ground. The Kurdish peshmerga fighters have been successful in pushing back ISIS militants. But in Syria, the groups of moderate rebels that Congress has agreed to fund are much less trustworthy and much less effective, experts said, because their immediate enemy is not Islamic State. Last week, certain moderate and Islamist rebel groups in a Damascus suburb in Syria signed a “non-aggression” agreement with ISIS to focus on fighting President Bashar Assad’s forces.

      Whatever its tactical limitations, though, the "no combat troops" plan is likely to remain firm, at least for the foreseeable future. Polls show that the American public is not willing to enter another ground war. According to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 61 percent of voters believe military action against ISIS is in the best interest of the U.S., but 40 percent think it should be limited to airstrikes.

      "It's for me a blanket 'no,'" said Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Tuesday. "I don't think the American people are up for it."

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          Mykolai Mike Kolesinski
          3 years ago

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          Does The US Need Ground Forces To Fight ISIS In Iraq, Syria?


          As we now see - This is all Putin's Domain from now on.

          MBO' reduced the US to a 3rd world entity.

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              3 years ago

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              We have people who are clueless running the country. I will guarantee this, LOVE HIM or HATE HIM. Putin wouldn't pull this crap if GW was in office. He knows Obama is spineless and will not ever use troops, so because of lack of decision making skills, the ME could very well be the area for WWIII to start. MY OPINION.

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                  miked46
                  3 years ago

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                  What an idiotic comment. If WWIII starts in the ME, the main person responsible would be that mental midget and your hero GW. Why people like you are trying to make this Obama's fault is beyond me. As the old saying goes, some people don't believe that fat meat is greasy. Your hero GW blew up the ME by stupidly sending us into Iraq for no reason. The initial blunder was followed by one dumb ass decision after the next. GW disbanded the Iraqi army and sent them wandering into the desert to become ISIS warriors. GW blindly supported President Alaqi, who predictably refused to bring in all religious factions into the new Iraq government. All he did was excelerate the civil war that was inevitable. As Colon Powell famously told GW, if you break it, you bought it. Obama smartly refuses to use US troops to fight a proxy war in a sectarian battle in the desert between Iran and Saudi Arabia. This is not our fight on the ground. The Saudis and the Jordanians and the Turks need to get off their asses and fight and defend their own neighborhood. They have the most to loose by the spread of ISIS and need to be the ones with the dogs in the hunt. Obama is very clear and accurate in the assessment that the US will no longer sacrifice our treasure while the Saudis and friends sit back on their oil money and do nothing. That is not lack of decision making, that IS A DECISION.

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                      Mykolai Mike Kolesinski
                      3 years ago

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                      What good are we doing blowing apart innocent civilians in seven nations across the Middle East 20 percent of the time with USA produced armed drones? Building more ill will in the Middle East against the USA that's what these bombs do. Civilian families across the Middle East aren't thinking the USA is helping them win any war against ISIS, that's for sure. They are shell shocked and suppressed by tyrannical jihadist terrorists - daily, hourly, fluidly - 24/7.

                      What is the USA to do - fight ISIS or fight Putin who says he is fighting ISIS? I want to see our next president credibly meet with world leaders and come up with a consensus battle plan - that puts terrorist jidamist "leaders" on notice and attempts to credibly instill peace in the middle east. We can't do that - by arming Iran and arming every other nation, too. Just because America has arms, arms, arms. And so does Russia. And Israel too.

                      All conversations about the Middle East pretty much end right there. That's the way President Obama is choosing to leave it. In my opinion.

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                          Mykolai Mike Kolesinski
                          3 years ago

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                          First things first. WHY are we in Syria and Iraq today, irrespective of the meritorious arguments that existed in the past?


                          1. It's not to prevent Russia from access to a modern military base on the Med. They have one and it is growing. A change of government in Aleppo would be an existential threat to that strategic asset so no, Putin is not going to let Al-Assad go down without a fight and anyone who knows that region and Russia's geopolitical doctrine of spheres of influence has known this as well.
                          2. We know (or should know after our experience with the Taliban) that "alliances" with folks whose sole source of income is proxy warfare for the world's power players comes with a high risk of shifting allegiances.
                          3. We have every reason to believe that ISIL/Daesh and their allies are being funded with Sunni sourced money primarily from around the Persian Gulf and Pakistan and it is at the instigation of those Sunni states we got into this particularly nasty situation. Yet we seem to be oblivious to this fact nor are we making any very tough or public efforts to cut off those funds or the folks moving the money and keeping ISIL/Daesh in clover.
                          4. Israel, Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan which border on this conflict aren't happy that Al-Assad wasn't rolled up and put away awhile back. But they'd be less happy if al-Assad were replaced with a warlord regime - Afghanistan West, if you will. That's what you have with Al-Assad's main opponents, ISIL/Daesh.
                          5. And now China has decided to "intervene" to divert attention to its domestic economic issues, the rising temperatures over their expansion in the Pacific, and their increasing use of cyberwarfare against allies and trading partners worldwide. If there is a significant new potential issue in the ME, China poses it.

                          Having said all this, we should cut our loses, acknowledge that evidently more than a few Syrians prefer Al-Assad to the other potential leaders of Syria, and inasmuch as Syria IS in Russia's sphere of influence and quite capable of handling things militarily, we were wrong and we bow out. In the meantime, we need to read the riot act to the Sunni states about funding this crap - we may need their oil and gas in the short term but they could very easily convince us they are too high maintenance and we'd leave them to Iran and Russia's (if not China's) tender mercies and pull back to support Egypt, Israel, Turkey, and a few of the Southern Med states if they don't stop inserting themselves where they don't belong.

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                              3 years ago

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                              I was just writing elsewhere on here about Old Otto and industrial education as it pertains to how American public schooling operates....looks like we old dogs are about to become wise old men, eh? lol

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                                  Marc Kivel
                                  3 years ago

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                                  Where we go from here - we the people need to first appreciate where we "are" today. I wish I really and truly "knew".

                                  I am beginning to appreciate how paralyzed the US Government has positioned their credibility - in the eyes of the world. How we get back to some appreciation that the person sitting in our Oval Office is on top of all things - foreign and domestic agenda wise - hasn't been posited to me by any serious presidential candidate to date. Excepting slightly so by Ms. Fiorina and Senator Sanders, in my opinion.

                                  Those two debating before the public - I would love to hear that conversation. I would be informed by those two about the state of my nation - if that were to occur.

                                  Where our nation actually positions itself - in the post Obama years - we need a serious sea change about all things foreign policy - that's the ONLY THING I know - for sure.

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                                      Mykolai Mike Kolesinski
                                      3 years ago

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                                      Thank you. I don't know your age but there was a political concept called realpolitik that was popular when I was in college: irrespective of what we might prefer, there is pragmatic reality we must embrace if we're to accomplish anything.

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                                          Marc Kivel
                                          3 years ago

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                                          I'm 70, so that should give you some idea of what I've lived through including brinkmanship. Really scary stuff and this looks like it could play out even worse than anything that's come before. Obama is no JFK and Kruschev was no Putin.

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                                              Mykolai Mike Kolesinski
                                              3 years ago

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                                              Well said! 10+


                                              And I also worry about the Chinese...the new fellow reminds me much more of Chairman Mao and Mao, right next to Stalin, was never a man to consider moderation when he felt he had a vision for the Motherland

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