I read thru the statement that President Obama made last night regarding his plan to address ISIS (which he kept calling ISIL) and I'd like to address some of the problems we will face with this.
As someone who's actually developed the plans to address problems in Iraq and Syria, and had to brief them to senior leaders, I have a hard time understanding why it has taken so long for him to address this, and why he's picking the 'strategy' that he has. I have agreed, up to now, with the cautious approach- that 'picking sides' in Syria is fraught with huge problems. NONE of the groups fighting in Syria are in any way trustworthy- it would be like trying to pick one Mafia family in NY to help clean up crime problems. No one you work with would benefit you in the end. And ultimately, you may end up with a result you still don't like.
Syria plans had an especially troubling problem- we had ZERO guidance from above on exactly what the end state was to be- we ended up having to develop multiple plans based on assumptions that no senior leader had given guidance on. No, the CENTCOM commander wasn't the problem- HE wasn't getting guidance either. Neither Mattis nor Austin either one knew what we really wanted to end up with. So, we built plans based on minimal intervention all the way thru full-on ops. From humanitarian assistance missions thru 'BOG' ops. From containment thru air power only, to SOF-only training assistance. And then we went back and re-did them. Several times. We had no choice- we could only assume, based on our collective experience, on what the end state could be. We used Bosnia, Iraq, AFG, DS-1, and a few others as 'models'. Plus, we considered different types of UN missions that may be used as approaches, in case we had to support only those.
What we also had to contend with was the fact that, at the time, Iraq was in NO WAY to be a part of the mission set. We had zero troops there; we had no presence, and even tho our own intel told us that the border area of Iraq and Syria was the real 'hot zone' developing, we could not address any activity there. All of our effort was to 'contain' within the borders of Syria, and try to prevent further refugee problems into Lebannon and Jordan. Especially Jordan. Pay SPECIAL attention to the Jordanian issue should we start hitting Syria hard- there are going to be real problems along that border as people flee areas of Syria and Iraq. AQ and ISIS may use that as a 'distraction' to force our hand there, and really end up with problems we haven't prepared for. Remember, there are hundreds of thousands of refugees along the border, and its a complete powder keg readly to go up in flames at the slightest provocation.
Now that Iraq territory has to be worked into the mix, at least we will have areas of 'safe zones' working with the Kurds that allow us some help. Erbil airport is a good backup location, and I'm assuming they will use that as a potential staging area. It's new, it's got a HUGE runway, and it's close-by. Fueling will be the most logical, if we can secure it further.
As someone who worked ops in Yemen and SOM and other areas, using these as 'models' for what we intend to do in Iraq is fraught with enormous issues- these are missions that are very very different than what is needed to address ISIS (if you want a very good rundown of this, go to Bill Roggio's column here.) We have 'advisors' deep into these missions, and the end-states are very very different. In fact, end-states in Syria and Iraq are completely different- so addressing ISIS across them is NOT going to be simple. Air power alone isn't going to do it, and you are not going to get Kurds or Iraqi's to chase ISIS into Syria to combat them- and that's exactly what ISIS is going to do.
The one issue that remains to be seen is how ISIS-supporting factions take on Baghdad; this is the nightmare scenario that could very well develop as a counter to US-centered actions. The fact that Baghdad becomes a focus is a very real fear; it would force the Iraqi gov't and forces to abandon northern Iraq to concentrate on securing that area alone, leaving the Kurds as the only support we'd have up north. And that ain't enough.
Another problem we could not solve internally was this issue of 'sharing intel' with anyone. How the HELL do we share intel with these guys? We can't even legally brief the mayor of NYC (deBlasio) because he doesn't have a clearance; there is NO such thing as 'REL YEMEN' or 'REL IRAQ' or 'REL SYRIA' for classified, useful intel info. So we'd be breaking the law to even attempt it. And we've been working with the Yems for years.
The only winner that comes out of this in the short-term is Iran. Shiite factions get defended in Iraq, Iran basically gets a free pass, and we (the west) end up doing the dirty work. How is this beneficial to us?
Let me ask all of you this- and leave your estimates in the comments- how big of a force do you think this is going to take to support? PBO said 475 additional will be sent; that's basically a company, and that ain't gonna do it. If we use air power alone, how many do you THINK that will take? I'll look at your estimates and let you know in a few days how close you are.