BREAKING NEWS Huntsville mayor issues statement about Wednesday's protest Full Story

It's decision time for the US in Syria

Last week, after suffering an IED attack in Syria on Thursday, one more member of the US special operations community...

Posted: Apr 2, 2018 9:22 PM
Updated: Apr 2, 2018 9:22 PM

Last week, after suffering an IED attack in Syria on Thursday, one more member of the US special operations community, Army Master Sgt. Jonathan Dunbar, lost his life -- creating another Gold Star family.

Sgt. Matt Tonroe, a member of the UK armed forces, was also killed: another reminder of the price coalition partners have paid in the fight against ISIS.

This grim milestone came even as questions grow more urgent about America's future presence in Syria -- what it will look like and how long it might endure. US policymakers are walking a diplomatic high wire between committing to staying in Syria and infuriating NATO ally Turkey, or pulling out of Syria and emboldening Iran and, to a lesser extent, Russia.

On my last trip to northern Syria a few weeks ago, I met parents working hard to rebuild their lives and their families: veterans of the ISIS fight, focused on bringing stability and decent governance to the region. I met with US forces who said they trusted their partners on the ground, saw them as a bulwark against both rising Iranian influence and the return of ISIS, and wanted to continue standing behind their partner force.

And I visited cemeteries whose rows of headstones serve as a testament to just how many Syrian lives the ISIS fight claimed.

The stakes are real. As is the need to tackle the pressing policy questions head on.

When it comes to Syria, the same set of tradeoffs has existed for years. But now they are being thrust once more into the headlines for three reasons:

1) The end of the fight against ISIS, which many thought arrived with Raqqa's liberation late last year.

2) The recent comments from President Donald Trump stating that the US will withdraw from Syria "very soon."

3) The loss of American life as policymakers decide the shape of America's future footprint in Syria.

Taken together, these three issues point to a critical moment, in which long-festering policy questions that have been years in the making have created a pivotal turning point for the US in Syria.

Meanwhile, US service members -- in particular from the special operations community -- continue to deploy for what is now an even more challenging mission: continuing the ISIS fight while attention dwindles, Turkey threatens to invade Manbij -- where US forces remain present for now -- and where the future is decidedly unclear.

America must engage with its wars and weigh in on the policy choices up ahead. And an informed conversation has to be had about the benefits of remaining in or departing entirely from Syria.

Throughout the post-9/11 wars it has proven easier for capable US forces to win the fight on the battlefield, but far harder to cement peace and stability afterward. The question now is will Syria be different, and will critical choices be made now that make it so?

The end of the ISIS fight unfroze a battlefield in which the common enemy had previously kept other tensions largely at bay.

The US and Russia enjoyed frequent use of the deconfliction line to communicate with each other and keep their forces from directly engaging one another.

The Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad also stayed mostly out of America's way. And the US's NATO ally Turkey -- while deeply unhappy with the US decision to back northern Syrian Kurds as the most effective fighting force against ISIS -- largely kept their unhappiness on mute while the ISIS battle raged.

Today things are different, as Turkey threatens to invade Manbij, a town where US special operations forces patrol regularly.

The US is working to come to a deal with Turkey that allays its concerns, while enabling the US to remain in northern Syrian alongside their Syrian Kurdish and Arab battle partners. But no one is certain that such a deal will be reached. How these questions get decided will shape the future of America's role in the country.

The comments from Trump that the US will withdraw "very soon" added even more uncertainty to the shape of America's presence. And it made US allies -- the Syrian Kurds, who America still wants to lead the fight against ISIS -- even more concerned that the US was going to abandon them.

To be clear, uncertainty has been the rule, not the exception, of Syria policy from the start of the Obama administration's foray into it in 2011. As former US envoy to Syria Frederic Hof noted recently, "President Obama would caricature external alternatives by creating and debating straw men: invented idiots calling for the invasion and occupation of Syria ... He did not mean to do it, but Barack Obama's performance in Syria produced global destabilization."

But these remarks are the latest reminder that nothing is set, nor certain, when it comes to the US presence in Syria -- even as US policymakers in the State Department and in the military work to navigate and plan for that future.

Finally, and most pressingly, is the issue of American loss of life. In 2016, for the first time, more members of US special operations forces were killed in action than conventional forces. This despite the fact that special operations forces account for less than 5% of the entire US military.

This underlines the fact that the special operations community -- while a small slice of the military -- has born an outsized share of the fight and its losses of late in the post-9/11 wars.

In the past, special operations forces were used to supplement conventional forces. And now they have become the light footprint, limited visibility go-to choice for policymakers.

For now, the Syria mission continues to be largely a special operations operation. The loss of Master Sgt. Jonathan Dunbar reminds us of this.

This nation has asked a great deal of its service members in these post-9/11 wars. They deserve a nation and a policymaking apparatus that is engaged with what it is asking of them - and the partner force they recruit -- and that offers clarity on what comes next.

Huntsville
Broken Clouds
76° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 76°
Florence
Clear
77° wxIcon
Hi: 87° Lo: 70°
Feels Like: 79°
Fayetteville
Broken Clouds
75° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 68°
Feels Like: 75°
Decatur
Scattered Clouds
75° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 68°
Feels Like: 75°
Scottsboro
Broken Clouds
77° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 68°
Feels Like: 78°
WAAY Radar
WAAY WAAY-TV Cam
WAAY Temperatures

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 18554

Reported Deaths: 651
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Mobile2284118
Jefferson1884103
Montgomery182343
Tuscaloosa82216
Marshall7059
Franklin5788
Lee55834
Shelby52220
Tallapoosa43266
Butler41918
Walker3812
Elmore3729
Chambers35926
Madison3464
Morgan2981
Unassigned2972
Baldwin2929
Dallas2873
Etowah26212
Lowndes25912
DeKalb2573
Autauga2395
Coffee2391
Sumter2287
Houston2265
Bullock2156
Pike2080
Colbert1872
Hale1799
Russell1770
Barbour1771
Marengo1746
Lauderdale1692
Calhoun1653
Wilcox1547
Choctaw15310
Cullman1501
Clarke1492
St. Clair1311
Randolph1287
Marion12411
Dale1230
Pickens1215
Talladega1175
Limestone1080
Chilton1051
Greene954
Winston910
Macon874
Jackson833
Henry812
Covington811
Crenshaw783
Bibb761
Escambia753
Washington726
Blount631
Lawrence510
Monroe452
Geneva440
Perry420
Conecuh411
Coosa401
Cherokee383
Clay282
Lamar260
Fayette160
Cleburne151

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 24833

Reported Deaths: 388
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Davidson542965
Shelby5428119
Trousdale13944
Rutherford132128
Hamilton93516
Sumner93146
Lake8350
Bledsoe6101
Williamson57711
Putnam5196
Robertson5165
Tipton4593
Wilson4428
Knox4365
Out of TN4264
Bedford2954
Montgomery2833
Rhea2140
Hardeman2010
Madison1732
Bradley1611
Unassigned1610
Macon1583
Loudon1570
McMinn14414
Cheatham1350
Fayette1252
Cumberland1191
Dickson1180
Maury1050
Sevier942
Blount933
Washington750
Coffee740
Monroe692
Wayne640
Gibson631
Sullivan602
Lauderdale591
Hickman580
Dyer570
Franklin541
Greene522
Unicoi480
Obion433
Hamblen432
Marion421
Anderson411
DeKalb380
Smith371
White340
Hawkins342
Marshall331
Lawrence330
Haywood332
Overton320
Cannon320
Grundy311
Henry310
Lincoln290
Jefferson280
Carroll281
Meigs270
Weakley260
Warren260
Perry240
Hardin222
Cocke210
Sequatchie190
Carter191
Johnson190
Jackson190
Polk180
Campbell181
Morgan170
Roane160
Crockett162
Humphreys151
McNairy150
Henderson150
Stewart130
Claiborne120
Chester120
Fentress120
Giles120
Scott120
Grainger110
Clay80
Houston80
Benton71
Moore50
Decatur50
Van Buren40
Union40
Pickett30
Lewis30
Hancock10

 

 

Community Events