Obama Breaks Promise: It's 'Boots on the Ground' in Syria
October 31, 2015
Andrew Buncombe / The Independent & Gregory Korte / USA TODAY &
Despite promises not to deepen its involvement in the chaos of the conflict inside the Syrian border, Washington is sending troops into the US-sponsored rebellion. Breaking a long-standing vow not to escalate the war, President Obama plans to dispatch up to 60 special forces soldiers to assist CIA-backed rebels inside Syria. Obama has also authorized deployment of A-10s and F-15 aircraft to an air base in Turkey while increasing military assistance to Jordan and Lebanon.
US Boots on the Ground in Syria:
Special Forces to be Dispatched in Fight against Isis
Andrew Buncombe / The Independent
NEW YORK (October 30, 2015) -- The US is to station troops in Syria to assist in the fight against Isis for the first time, a reversal of President Barack Obama's opposition to basing US forces in the country. No more than 50 troops will be sent to offer advice and support to the moderate opposition troops, White House spokesperson Josh Earnest said on Friday night. He insisted it was not a combat role.
"There's no denying the serious risk they will be facing," Mr. Earnest said, "but they are not in a combat mission." US troops have entered Syria previously for one-off interventions, but this marks the first proper deployment.
Reports said troops will also be dispatched to Irbil in northern Iraq, and that Mr. Obama has also authorised deploying A-10s and F-15 aircraft to the Incirlik air base in Turkey. The US will also step up its military assistance to Jordan and Lebanon and will engage in further talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to target Isis's leaders and networks, an official told Reuters.
The news came as the latest diplomatic effort to end the Syrian civil war -- including for the first time a representative of Iran -- got under way in Vienna. The talks focused on a way to ease out President Bashar Assad, with Iran this week for the first time signaling it would be willing to see a six-month transition period. The talks ended with a call for the UN to start a new ceasefire process between Syria's government and the opposition with the ultimate goal of political transition.
US Secretary of State John Kerry made the announcement at a joint news conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and the UN envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura. But the main sticking block -- the fate of Mr. Assad and an agreement on a "managed transition" to ease him out -- remained unresolved.
In another shift in the US in recent months, no longer is Washington insisting on Mr. Assad's immediate departure. But it maintains that he cannot be part of any long-term solution to the four-and-a-half-year conflict, in which 250,000 have died and 11 million people -- half of Syria's population -- have been displaced.
Mr. Assad's key patrons, Russia and Iran, do not rule out Mr. Assad's departure, but insist that the Damascus government and the Syrian opposition groups alone must decide their country's future, a formula that effectively gives the Syrian President a veto. They point to the 2014 elections -- which the West says were rigged -- that returned him for a new term theoretically lasting until 2021.
Further complications are the fragmentation of opposition groups fighting Mr. Assad, Russia's military action to support him, and the swathes of Syrian territory now in the hands of Isis.
What hope there is resides in the fact that finally all the main countries involved are sitting at the same table, and that after last summer's nuclear deal, Tehran and Washington might be able work more closely together. But the prospects of that took a fresh blow with reports that Iran has arrested and imprisoned a fourth Iranian-American in Tehran -- Siamak Namazi, a businessman in his early forties.
Iran's presence only increased tensions with its rival Saudi Arabia, a leader of the coalition of Sunni Arab countries demanding Mr. Assad's early ouster. The Syrian conflict has become part of a proxy war between the region's two biggest powers, while the increasing involvement of Russia and the US threatens to force a standoff between the two powers.
A senior Russian official warned the US against sending its own ground forces into Syria. The involvement of any foreign forces without co-ordination with Mr. Assad's government was "unacceptable", Sergei Ryabkov, the deputy foreign minister said.
Russia began its air campaign in Syria on 30 September, claiming it was targeting Isis. But Western analysts say the bulk of the raids have been against more moderate rebels supported by the US and fighting president Assad. Yesterday, a missile strike on a heavily built up suburb of Damascus killed at least 45 civilians.
Mr. Obama had previously explicitly ruled out a US deployment to Syria, saying in September 2013: "I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria." But earlier this week, Defence Secretary Ashton Carter said the US had been considering options in recent weeks for intensifying the fight.
Two US officials said any deployments would be narrowly tailored, seeking to advance specific, limited military objectives in both Iraq and Syria. That option includes temporarily deploying some US special operations forces inside of Syria to advise moderate Syrian opposition fighters and, potentially, to help call in US air strikes.
Other possibilities including sending a small number of Apache attack helicopters, and US forces to operate them, to Iraq, as well as taking steps to bolster other Iraqi capabilities needed to claw back territory from Isis.
John Pike, a defence analyst with GobalSecurity.Org, said he did not believe the several dozens special forces being sent would ultimately lead to the dispatch of hundreds of thousands. He also said he believed the US had little alternative. "If we don't take the fight to Isis, they are going to bring it to us," he told The Independent. "They are far more dangerous than al-Qaeda."
New House Speaker Paul Ryan said last night that he hoped the deployment of troops would be the start of a strategy for US involvement in the war. "[Mr. Obama] really hasn't had a Syria strategy," the Wisconsin Republican told ABC News. "Hopefully, he has one now."
16 Times Obama Said There
Would Be 'No Boots on the Ground in Syria'
Gregory Korte / USA TODAY
WASHINGTON (October 30, 2015) -- Since 2013, President Obama has repeatedly vowed that there would be no "boots on the ground" in Syria. But White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the president's decision Friday to send up to 50 special forces troops to Syria doesn't change the fundamental strategy: "This is an important thing for the American people to understand. These forces do not have a combat mission."
Earnest said the promises of "no boots on the ground" first came in the context of removing Syrian President Bashar Assad because of his use of chemical weapons. Since then, Syria has become a haven for Islamic State fighters.
Here's a recap of Obama's no-boots pledge:
Remarks before meeting with Baltic State leaders, Aug. 30, 2013
"In no event are we considering any kind of military action that would involve boots on the ground, that would involve a long-term campaign. But we are looking at the possibility of a limited, narrow act that would help make sure that not only Syria, but others around the world, understand that the international community cares about maintaining this chemical weapons ban and norm.
So again, I repeat, we're not considering any open-ended commitment. We're not considering any boots-on-the-ground approach." [Emphasis added -- EAW]
Remarks in the Rose Garden, Aug. 31, 2013
"After careful deliberation, I have decided that the United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets. This would not be an open-ended intervention. We would not put boots on the ground. Instead, our action would be designed to be limited in duration and scope."
Statement before meeting with congressional leaders, Sept. 3, 2013
"So the key point that I want to emphasize to the American people: The military plan that has been developed by our Joint Chiefs -- and that I believe is appropriate -- is proportional. It is limited. It does not involve boots on the ground. This is not Iraq, and this is not Afghanistan."
News conference in Stockholm, Sweden, Sept. 4, 2013
"I think America recognizes that, as difficult as it is to take any military action -- even one as limited as we're talking about, even one without boots on the ground -- that's a sober decision."
News conference in St. Petersburg, Russia, Sept. 6, 2013
"The question for the American people is, is that responsibility that we'll be willing to bear? And I believe that when you have a limited, proportional strike like this -- not Iraq, not putting boots on the ground; not some long, drawn-out affair; not without any risks, but with manageable risks -- that we should be willing to bear that responsibility."
Weekly radio address, Sept. 7, 2013
"What we're not talking about is an open-ended intervention. This would not be another Iraq or Afghanistan. There would be no American boots on the ground. Any action we take would be limited, both in time and scope, designed to deter the Syrian Government from gassing its own people again and degrade its ability to do so."
Interview with the PBS Newshour, Sept. 9, 2013
"Tomorrow I'll speak to the American people. I'll explain this is not Iraq; this is not Afghanistan; this is not even Libya. We're not talking about -- not boots on the ground. We're not talking about sustained airstrikes. We're talking about a very specific set of strikes to degrade his chemical weapons capabilities in terms of delivery."
Interview with CBS Evening News, Sept. 9, 2013
"What I'm going to try to propose is that we have a very specific objective, a very narrow military option, and one that will not lead into some large-scale invasion of Syria or involvement or boots on the ground; nothing like that. This isn't like Iraq. It's not like Afghanistan. It's not even like Libya. Then hopefully people will recognize why I think this is so important."
Address to the Nation, Sept. 10, 2013
"Many of you have asked, won't this put us on a slippery slope to another war? One man wrote to me that we are 'still recovering from our involvement in Iraq.' A veteran put it more bluntly: 'This nation is sick and tired of war.'
My answer is simple: I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria. I will not pursue an open-ended action like Iraq or Afghanistan. I will not pursue a prolonged air campaign like Libya or Kosovo. This would be a targeted strike to achieve a clear objective: deterring the use of chemical weapons and degrading Assad's capabilities."
Interview on Bloomberg View, Feb, 27, 2014
"We are doing everything we can to see how we can do that and how we can resource it. But I've looked at a whole lot of game plans, a whole lot of war plans, a whole bunch of scenarios, and nobody has been able to persuade me that us taking large-scale military action even absent boots on the ground, would actually solve the problem."
News conference in Newport, Wales, Sept. 5, 2014
"With respect to the situation on the ground in Syria, we will not be placing US ground troops to try to control the areas that are part of the conflict inside of Syria. I don't think that's necessary for us to accomplish our goal. We are going to have to find effective partners on the ground to push back against ISIL."
Interview with Meet the Press, Sept. 7, 2014
"(You) cannot, over the long term or even the medium term, deal with this problem by having the United States serially occupy various countries all around the Middle East. We don't have the resources. It puts enormous strains on our military. And at some point, we leave.
And then things blow up again. So we've got to have a more sustainable strategy, which means the boots on the ground have to be Iraqi. And and in Syria, the boots on the ground have to be Syrian. . . . I will reserve the right to always protect the American people and go after folks who are trying to hurt us wherever they are.
But in terms of controlling territory, we're going to have to develop a moderate Sunni opposition that can control territory and that we can work with. The notion that the United States should be putting boots on the ground, I think would be a profound mistake. And I want to be very clear and
Address to the Nation on Syria, Sept. 10, 2014
"I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil. This counterterrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist, using our air power and our support for partner forces on the ground."
News conference in Brisbane, Australia, Nov. 16, 2014
"Yes, there are always circumstances in which the United States might need to deploy US ground troops. If we discovered that ISIL had gotten possession of a nuclear weapon, and we had to run an operation to get it out of their hands, then, yes, you can anticipate that not only would Chairman Dempsey recommend me sending US ground troops to get that weapon out of their hands, but I would order it.
So the question just ends up being, what are those circumstances? I'm not going speculate on those. Right now we're moving forward in conjunction with outstanding allies like Australia in training Iraqi security forces to do their job on the ground."
Remarks at the White House, Feb. 11, 2015
"The resolution we've submitted today does not call for the deployment of US ground combat forces to Iraq or Syria. It is not the authorization of another ground war, like Afghanistan or Iraq. . . . As I've said before, I'm convinced that the United States should not get dragged back into another prolonged ground war in the Middle East. That's not in our national security interest, and it's not necessary for us to defeat ISIL. Local forces on the ground who know their countries best are best positioned to take the ground fight to ISIL, and that's what they're doing."
Remarks at the Pentagon, July 6, 2015
"There are no current plans to do so. That's not something that we currently discussed. I've always said that I'm going to do what's necessary to protect the homeland. One of the principles that we all agree on, though, and I pressed folks pretty hard because in these conversations with my military advisers I want to make sure I'm getting blunt and unadulterated, uncensored advice.
But in every one of the conversations that we've had, the strong consensus is that in order for us to succeed long-term in this fight against ISIL, we have to develop local security forces that can sustain progress. It is not enough for us to simply send in American troops to temporarily set back organizations like ISIL, but to then, as soon as we leave, see that void filled once again with extremists."
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