“Boots on the ground” only effective way to remove Bashar al-Assad from power in Syria
August 27, 2013
Cruise missiles fired from Navy destroyers deployed in the Mediterranean Sea will not break the resolve of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad or significantly hobble his military.
Defense officials told the Washington Post late last week that a destroyer scheduled to leave the Mediterranean was kept in place to keep more resources in the area. As noted in the above video, other assets are being positioned.
On Sunday, Sen. Bob Corker, who was briefed by Obama administration officials over the weekend, said a “response is imminent” in Syria. “I think we will respond in a surgical way,” he explained.
During a news conference on Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry set the stage for an attack.
A cruise missile attack, however, short of more robust military action will undoubtedly fail, according to Chris Harmer, a senior naval analyst at the Institute for the Study of War.
In July, Harmer wrote a study pointing out how the U.S. could degrade key Syrian military installations with virtually no risk to U.S. personnel, reports John Hudson for Foreign Policy. One aspect of the report suggested TJAM, or Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles, attacks pinpointed against the al-Assad regime. “It could be done quickly, easily, with no risk whatsoever to American personnel, and a relatively minor cost,” said Harmer.
The report was embraced by Arizona Senator John McCain.
In July, McCain cited Harmer’s report. “For a serious accounting of a realistic limited military option in Syria, I would strongly recommend a new study that is being released today by the Institute for the Study of War,” said McCain. “This new study confirms what I and many others have long argued: That it is militarily feasible for the United States and our friends and allies to significantly degrade Assad’s air power at relatively low cost, low risk to our personnel, and in very short order.”
“I never intended my analysis of a cruise missile strike option to be advocacy even though some people took it as that,” Harmer told Foreign Policy. “I made it clear that this is a low cost option, but the broader issue is that low cost options don’t do any good unless they are tied to strategic priorities and objectives,” he explained. “Any ship officer can launch 30 or 40 Tomahawks. It’s not difficult. The difficulty is explaining to strategic planners how this advances U.S. interests.”
“Punitive action is the dumbest of all actions,” he said. “The Assad regime has shown an incredible capacity to endure pain and I don’t think we have the stomach to deploy enough punitive action that would serve as a deterrent.”
In March, Joseph Halliday, a senior analyst for the Institute for the Study of War, produced a comprehensive comparative report on the strategy and capabilities of the Syrian army under both the current president Bashar al-Assad and his father and predecessor, Hafez al-Assad.
Halliday concluded that although the CIA’s mercenaries led by the al-Nusra Front and al-Qaeda had taken an appreciable toll of al-Assad’s military, it remains largely intact. A reorganization of loyalist brigades and dependence on irregular army militias have kept the armed forces loyal, writes Lauren Williams for The Daily Star. The report concludes that al-Assad is increasingly dependent on core trusted units to control all of the country.
Although suffering from a high rate of defection, between 55,000-75,000 troops have been reorganized into loyalist units and deployed strategically under the command of trusted elite unit commanders.
“There has been significant reorganization of the deployable units. They have taken the most trusted soldiers out of the conventional battalions,” Holliday told The Daily Star.
“The vast majority of the commanding officers are Alawites, or those in leadership positions have close ties to the regime through family ties or commercial interests. This is true even at division commander level,” Holliday noted.
The Syrian Army employs fear and intimidation to reduce defections. “Loyalist gangs, usually made up of Alawites, and locally coordinated loyalist forces under the name of the Popular Committees, mostly organized along the lines of other minority sects, have been used as an important bolster to army units,” writes Williams.
“There are the shabbiha, Alawite gangs extended to members of the Assad family, or those from, say, slums in mixed areas made up of loyalist gangs who are not Alawite and often responsible for the worst kind of brutality,” Halliday explained.
In June, following a long stalemate, the tide turned against the CIA’s rebels in Syria. Following the loss of the key strategic city of Qusair on the Lebanese border, the rebels, propped up by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, suffered a serious setback.
“Bolstered by his Iranian and Russian backers, Assad’s forces have launched a series of counter-offensives in recent weeks against mainly Sunni Muslim rebels battling to overthrow him and end his minority Alawite family’s four-decade grip on power,” Reuters reported on June 5.
Cruise missile attacks are not likely to reverse this dynamic. If the United States is serious about toppling the al-Assad regime, it will be necessary to deploy “boots on the ground” as it did in Iraq and Afghanistan, an option the Obama administration and the Pentagon have ruled out.
“Nobody has asked us to [go into Syria]. The Syrian opposition does not think that it’s a good idea,” Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communication, said in June. “We certainly don’t think it’s in our national interest to send U.S. Troops.”
The neocons in Congress, however, understand that deploying troops inside Syria will be the only effective way to take out al-Assad under the WMD guise. In March, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham said troops must be sent into Syria to secure its chemical weapons.
“Absolutely, you’ve got to get on the ground,” Graham said. “There is no substitute for securing these weapons. I don’t care what it takes.”
“Look, there is no way that any strikes inside Syria would be easy to accomplish and they could potentially drag us much deeper into the conflict than we would like, but it is also true that the military is war-weary and is facing budgetary uncertainties,” said Michael P. Noonan, the Director of the Program on National Security at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia, after Kerry proposed a “surgical strike option” in April.
Kerry’s proposal was shot down by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.