U.S. special operations forces in Syria. (Photo: AFP)
The president is being asked by the Pentagon to provide U.S. ground troops to fight ISIS in Syria. If the president is wise, he will run as fast as he can the other way.
There are four potential traps here:
Syria is a quagmire – ask the Russians. The late 2016 battle for Aleppo required heavy bombing; massive artillery; and even, allegedly, chemical weapons. In Aleppo overall, there were 31,000 casualties – 22,633 men, 2, 849 women, and 4,548 children. Overall, 76% of the casualties were civilian. Most were caused by Russian bombing and Syrian government and allied troops – Hezb’allah and Iran – on the ground.
Daily operations in Syria are under Russian-Syrian cognizance. The Russians supply air power, combat intelligence, and special operations, targeting anti-regime forces and leaders they want to liquidate. Syrian army forces, Iranian-backed forces (many of them irregular and imported from Pakistan and Afghanistan), and Hezb’allah do the dirty work on the ground. The Russians are determined to minimize their own casualties. After the Afghan debacle – 13,310 dead, 35,478 wounded, and more than 300 missing – the Russian public has a low tolerance for battlefield casualties, and in today’s world where the internet reigns supreme, keeping news about deadly encounters from the Russian people is a losing battle, and the authorities know it.
Some, including Russian president Vladimir Putin, have proposed that the U.S. team up with Russia. But Defense Secretary James Mattis has said that while we might find ways to cooperate politically, direct military collaboration with the Russians is not in the cards, most importantly because the U.S. arms and trains some Syrian rebels the Russians call “terrorists” and against whom they and the Syrian government are fighting. It is inconceivable that the U.S. would fight in coordination with Russia’s allies, Iran and Hezb’allah – who pose a grave threat to Israel, threaten American sailors in the Persian Gulf, and support Saudi Arabia’s enemy, the Houthi rebels in Yemen.
In addition to their battle standards being anathema to Americans, the potential for U.S. casualties in Syria is high. The Second Battle of Fallujah was the most costly engagement for American forces since Hue, Vietnam in 1968. In Fallujah in 2004-05, U.S. Marines and coalition forces committed more than 13,000 troops and lost 95 men with 560 wounded. In the town, some 35,000 of the total 50,000 homes were destroyed by artillery, bombing, and street fighting. While the U.S. eventually forced al-Qaeda out, victory secured Fallujah not for long. Fighting ISIS in Syria would produce casualties on the same order of magnitude.
H.R. McMaster, newly appointed NSC advisor to President Trump, knows this better than almost anyone – he commanded the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment in Tel Afar, Iraq, ousting al-Qaeda from the city in 2004, and worked with Gen. Petraeus to rewrite the Army’s Counterinsurgency Field Manual during his command of the Combined Arms Center in 2007-08.
Then there is the question of Turkey, which claims that its agenda is to knock off ISIS but is really looking to knock off Kurds – whom the Turks consider terrorists. Turkey wants to import a replacement population to Kurdish territory, beginning with the placement of “safe zones” for Syrian Sunnis in the Kurdish areas and demanding control of ISIS-held Raqqa after its liberation. Turkey is a NATO ally, so the U.S. should be inclined to work with it despite the increasing authoritarianism of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
But to the fourth point, the U.S. arms and trains Kurdish forces in Iraq and Syria because they are the most effective fighters on the ground and have the best strategy against ISIS. The Kurds are absolutely vital to the fight in Mosul, Iraq. Without Kurdish forces, the Mosul offensive probably would collapse, and with it, the Iraqi government itself might fall. While the U.S. agrees with Turkey that the PKK (Turkish Workers’ Party) is a terror organization, the YPG, the fighting arm, is part of the U.S. fighting alliance.
The Russians are also courting the Kurds, believing they can exert pressure on the Turkish position. While there is a rapprochement between Turkey and Russia, it is suspect and unstable. The Russians have given the Kurds a semi-official office in Moscow, permitted them to hold large political meetings, and built Kurdish autonomy into Russian proposals for a future Syrian constitution. This is tricky turf, so at Astana, Kazakhstan, where the political reconciliation talks between Syria and the opposition are being managed by the Russians, the Kurds as political parties were not represented. Kurdish interests are handled by the Syrian government delegation, ostensibly because the Kurdish territories are part of Syria.
So, after dealing with the potential for American military casualties on the scale of the Iraq war; Syrian/Hezb’allah/Iranian/Russian political objectives and military tactics; and the conundrum of our relations with Turkey and the Kurds and their divergent objectives, there remains the question of the size of any operation, the cost in equipment and manpower, and whether ground operations against ISIS can be sustained without a massive investment. If the U.S. were to launch any serious ground operation to defeat ISIS, the U.S. could not at the same time keep sufficient forces in Europe to defend NATO. In fact, the entire strategy to rebuild NATO would be in abeyance or dead. This would hand Putin an exceptional victory in the West.
In sum, the Pentagon recommendation lacks credibility. It is a trap, a killer, and damaging to America. President Trump should send it back where it came from with a big red X scrawled on the paper.
A Sa’ar 4.5-class Corvette of the Israeli Navy fires its canons during a naval exercise off the coast of Israel.
Israel’s Defense Ministry on Sunday announced a series of deals for the purchase of combat systems from local defense industries in the amount of $420 million by the end of this year. This is part of a project to acquire warships whose mission would to protect natural gas platforms within Israel’s “economic waters” in the Mediterranean against military threats.
An Israeli soldier training in Krav Maga.
Several dozen members of the Indian military are currently learning how to protect themselves using the Israeli martial art of Krav Maga, India Today reported this weekend.
“I brought Krav Maga to India in year 2002 after intensive training in Israel,” Vikram Kapoor — the head instructor at the International Krav Maga Federation — was quoted as saying. “This is the only self-defense technique that is being evolved every moment and that is why it is the best.”
Culminating a three-year process, delegates at the Mennonite Church USA assembly in Orlando on Thursday adopted a resolution titled “Seeking Peace in Israel and Palestine,” with approximately 98 percent voting in favor. The resolution calls on members to “avoid purchase of products associated with the occupation or produced in settlements in occupied territories.” It also establishes a process for the church to review its investments “for the purpose of withdrawing investments from companies that are profiting from the occupation.”
Rabbi Steven Wernick says Netanyahu recruited progressive Jews to find a compromise for the holy site; now that the PM has reneged, world Jewry won’t be silent
The fight for pluralistic prayer at the Western Wall is a battle already won by Jewry’s Conservative movement. For some 20 years, Conservative Jews have inhabited a spiritual home at Jerusalem’s contentious holy site, which they won through a series of Supreme Court cases — in a section allocated to the Davidson Archaeological
Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. (Photo credit: hebron.com)
In a secret ballot held at the World Heritage Committee’s 41st annual summit in Krakow Poland, on Friday, UNESCO voted twelve to three in favor declaring the Holy City of Hebron and the Cave of the Patriarchs “Palestinian world heritage sites”.
The resolution described a Muslim history of the city while blatantly ignoring the Biblical narrative describing 3,000 years of Jewish connection to the site. Six countries abstained from the controversial vote which, at the request of Poland, Croatia, and Jamaica, was a secret ballot; a first for such a vote.
During last month’s 2017 Chicago Dyke March, the true face of “inclusion” among “progressives” finally surfaced. According to the Chicago based newspaper Windy City Times, the march proceeded calmly with people “of all races, genders and gender identities” attending, until “the Dyke March Collective ejected three people carrying Jewish Pride flags (a rainbow flag with a Star of David in the center).”
Something is terribly broken in the relationship between American and Israeli Jews. I say this as an American Jew who has lived in Israel for almost half a century. But if anyone thinks this started with Women of the Wall or PM Netanyahu’s recent – and I believe unfortunate – backtracking on the agreement over egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel, he is suffering from selective memory, if not total denial.
gentleman from times gone by. He was soft-spoken, courtly, and wore his pants hoisted high and held up by suspenders; clearly, a European who had personally endured horrors in the last century.
Indeed, he had personally survived the Holocaust in Poland. Therefore, I could not immediately understand why he now attends a very left-wing synagogue—but, totally incomprehensible, was his unexpected and rather passionate defense of Poland and of the Poles. He argued on their behalf as if his very life still depended upon it.
Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s decision to visit Jerusalem but not Ramallah has prompted much comment.
The expectation of equal treatment goes back to the Oslo Accords’ signing in Sep. 1993, when the prime minister of Israel, Yitzhak Rabin, represented his government in the handshake with Yasir Arafat, the much-despised chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization. No one found it strange or inappropriate at the time but things look differently nearly a quarter century later.
Matthew Healy at the Atlantic, one of the few remaining liberal anti-censorship magazines, offers a disingenuous counterpoint to the debate over political correctness.
The attempts to silence dissenting points of view are counter-speech, according to Healy. And counter-speech is an important form of free expression.