(Updated) Is US Considering Expanding Air Strikes into Syria?
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The Washington Post has a piece discussing how and why it may be premature and/or risky to launch air strikes against ISIS targets in Syria.
Intelligence gaps (as became clear in the failed attempt to rescue Foley) and lack of capabilities to “provide reliable-enough intelligence to sustain a campaign of strikes.”
The nature and sophistication of Syria’s air defense capabilities
“Our intelligence is improving since we began devoting the resources to doing that, but we still have only modest visibility into what is going on in Syria,” said Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee.
But, the Post adds, “Experts said the Pentagon could employ high-flying unmanned aircraft — such as the RQ-4 Global Hawk or stealth drones developed by the CIA — that soar at altitudes beyond the reach of Syrian antiaircraft batteries. But the Global Hawk does not carry missiles or provide the close-in surveillance required to monitor terrorist leaders who move frequently.”
More from the Post:
Some U.S. officials emphasized that even without finding [Islamic State leader] Baghdadi, an air campaign could inflict substantial damage by targeting mid-tier fighters, much the way the CIA drone campaign in Pakistan sought to cripple al-Qaeda by eviscerating its middle ranks. Agency strikes killed a succession of No. 3 operatives who were key to relaying instructions from Osama bin Laden.
Current and former officials said there are limited scenarios in which the Pentagon or CIA could use drones in Syria, including for individual strikes or patrols of remote areas far from the urban settings where Assad’s air defenses are concentrated.
But to maintain long-term surveillance prior to a strike “you are going to have to deal with the air threats” posed by Assad’s military, said retired Lt. Gen. David Deptula, a former head of Air Force intelligence. “That is a much larger set of resources.”
Sending drones into Syria “could be done and would be a lot less risky than sending pilots over Syrian airspace,” Schiff said. But doing so would probably mean losing some of the remotely piloted aircraft and driving Islamists deeper into areas with dense civilian populations.
“You have to ask what we would accomplish,” he said. “It’s hard to see it providing a major setback to [the Islamic State]. It is easy to see it pulling us into the middle of the horrendous civil war.”
Read more here
Several reports are emerging this weekend that the United States may be considering extending air strikes into Syria.
The Guardian reports:
US officials said that there was now a “”new context” for confronting Isis – and cutting off its supply routes – following the beheading of US journalist James Foley. In a sign that Washington may widen the field of its air strikes, the White House said it was ready to “take action against any threat to America in Iraq or Syria.”
The Guardian further reports that before today’s airstrike against ISIS in the vicinity of the Mosul Dam, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said: “If we see plotting against Americans, if we see a threat to the US emanating from anywhere, we stand ready to take action against that threat. We have made it very clear time and again that if you come after Americans, we’re going to come after you, wherever you are – and that’s what’s going to guide our planning in the days to come.” This would include the possibility of launching unmanned drone strikes on ISIS leaders.
The Stars and Stripes also reports today that the “Obama administration is considering seeking congressional authorization for military action against the Islamic State under a revamped counter¬terrorism strategy President Barack Obama announced last year.” Such a mandate from Congress “could provide domestic legal justification for the unlimited use of force against the Sunni Muslim group across Iraq and Syria, a senior administration official said. Congress last formally authorized such action in 2001, against al-Qaeda and its associates, and 2002, against Iraq under Saddam Hussein,” the Stripes says.
“The range of options for direct use of the U.S. military includes temporary authority under the War Powers Resolution, constitutional authority for emergency action to protect U.S. citizens, and ‘having that discussion with Congress’ about a more open-ended authorization to combat the Islamic State,” the official said according to the Stripes.
The official did not rule out the immediate use of airstrikes or other action in Syria if necessary to protect U.S. citizens. The recent military raid, which was unsuccessful in locating four hostages, was followed by this week’s videotaped beheading of one of the captives, journalist James Foley.
“If you come after Americans, we are going to come after you,” deputy national security adviser Benjamin Rhodes told reporters Friday. “We’re not going to be restricted by borders.”
Finally, a word of caution:
An expanded covert program that would allow Islamic State forces to be targeted by drones, such as the CIA effort against al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan, is deemed risky. Not only do the extremists have surface-to-air missiles, but Assad’s forces control the air over Syria.
Read the full report here
Lead photo: U.S. sailors guide an F/A-18C Hornet on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush in the Arabian Gulf, Aug. 8, 2014. The carrier is supporting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation (DoD).