US Special ‘Operators’ In Syria Must Be Viewed In Context – Dunford


By Jim Garamone

The introduction of special operations forces into northern Syria is just one part of the overall strategy to degrade and defeat the terrorist organization known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in an interview Wednesday during a multi-day trip to the Asia-Pacific region.

Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. said people must remember there are nine lines of effort against ISIL, with just two of them the sole responsibility of the military: to build partnership capacity and deny sanctuary.

Special operators are reinforcing the effort to build partnership capacity in Syria, he said. “To my mind, this isn’t doing something new, it’s adding a capability so that what we’re doing is more effective,” Dunford said.

“Is this enough in Syria? No, not in and of itself,” the general said. “That is not what it was intended to be. It’s additive to our effort. It is consistent with the campaign strategy.”

President Barack Obama gave the military the authority to put special operations forces in northern Syria to be more effective in supporting partners that are working against ISIL on the ground. The Syrian Arab Coalition and the Kurdish People’s Protective Units — known by its Kurdish acronym YPG — are getting supplies and receiving close-air support in their operations against ISIL, Dunford said.

Effective Airstrikes Require Partner on the Ground

Coalition aircraft have been attacking ISIL targets inside Syria for more than a year. That has been effective in many instances — notably in the Kurdish defense of Kobane, located near the border with Turkey. But for the airstrikes to be more effective, the chairman said, there has to be an effective partner on the ground.

There are training facilities in Iraq for anti-ISIL forces, he said, because American and coalition forces can work with Iraq’s government, which provides command and control for the trained forces.

There is no effective government in Syria, and getting trainees out of Syria, vetting them for reliability, then training them and putting them back in Syria did not work, Dunford said.

Hence the new approach.

“Whether it’s enough or too much has to be understood in the context of all that we’re doing,” he said. “Of course it is not enough for us to win the fight, but it’s one of the things we are doing that’s contributing to the strategy. In this particular case, we need effective ground forces in Syria.”

The special operations effort is working with the Syrian Arab coalition, the YPG and others in order to set them up for success and to better integrate operations, the chairman said.

The special operators also allow coalition logistical support to get where it needs to go and gives coalition forces the “situational awareness of what’s going on on the ground and maybe better facilitate the delivery of combined arms in support of our partners on the ground,” Dunford said.

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