With President Barack Obama seemingly determined to use military force to intervene in the conflict in Syria, we thought it appropriate to explore which admiral or general might lead the operation.
Here are five military commanders who, due to experience and present assignment, are well-positioned to lead military action against the Bashar al Assad regime.
Each of the men on this list has no fewer than 30 years of experience as a U.S. military officer. Each is supremely qualified.
1. Army Gen. Lloyd Austin — U.S. Central Command
Austin has to top this list. As the man in charge of U.S. Central Command, the Unified Combatant Command responsible for the Arab world,
Syria falls smack in the middle of his purview.
He also has the best resume to lead this strike. He previously commanded U.S. forces in Iraq and then served as the Army Vice Chief of Staff. This means he both has the requisite experience in warfare and the political knowledge to navigate this mess in Syria.
Additionally, reports last week were that leaders at CENTCOM headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida were narrowing down the list of planned targets for the Syrian strike. That certainly suggests Austin is in charge. Don’t be surprised if come game day, he takes off for the region to oversee action from the front.
2. Adm. Bruce Clingan — U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa
The only four-star admiral on this list, Clingan is an intriguing choice. He also has a fantastic background for the job. He has put in a ton of time in the region, including stints as deputy director of operations at CENTCOM and as commander of the Navy’s Sixth Fleet.
There’s also interesting recent historical precedent for the man in his chair: when the U.S. lead Operation Odyssey Dawn in Libya in March 2011, the tactical commander for that operation was Clingan’s predecessor, Adm. Samuel Locklear III.
Now, there are major differences between Syria and Libya. Notably, Libya falls within the area of responsibility for the Commander of Naval Forces in Africa and Europe, while Syria does not. But a lot of the surrounding region does fall under his responsibility, and assets that he is responsible for would be involved in the operation. Obama’s limited military strike with no boots on the ground promises to principally involve Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from Naval vessels, and he’s the most senior American sailor for thousands of miles.
3. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove — Supreme Allied Commander Europe
Breedlove makes sense to lead the military strike on Syria due to his role as the top U.S. officer in NATO. If there is any sort of coalition of the willing executing the intervention, his role with NATO could be key.
Additionally, Breedlove is also the commander of U.S. European Command, and much of the region that surrounds Syria falls under his area of responsibility, namely; Israel, Turkey, and the Mediterranean Sea where many of the military assets are positioned.
But Breedlove seems an unlikely choice. Unlike Austin, he has never commanded any sort of kinetic military operation, and has no experience in Iraq or Afghanistan. As an F-16 pilot, Breedlove did, however, fly combat missions over Bosnia and Kosovo. Perhaps if the seat at NATO were filled by Obama’s first choice, Marine Gen. John Allen, who previously commanded coalition forces in Afghanistan, the move would make more sense.
4. Vice Adm. Frank Pandolfe — Sixth Fleet
The first three-star on this list,
Pandolfe has impressive credentials. He has commanded carrier strike groups in support of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he has put in his time in Washington, on the staff with the Joint Chiefs and as a White House military advisor.
His most recent assignment strikes a chord — he served as director of the Navy’s surface warfare division. This is a man with a keen understanding of the type of military operations Obama envisions for Syria.
He commands the Sixth Fleet, which has assets positioned off the coast of Syria, but also serves as the commander of striking and support forces at NATO. The Sixth Fleet has it’s hands in a litany of similar military operations in the region, from the intervention in Libya, stretching all the way back to the U.S. Lebanese intervention of 1958. What’s more, Pandolfe’s predecessor at the Sixth Fleet, Vice Adm. Harry Harris, was the commander of maritime forces for Operation Odyssey Dawn in Libya. Even if Pandolfe isn’t the top guy, expect him to have a major role in the Syrian War.
5. Vice Adm. John Miller — Fifth Fleet
Miller commands the Fifth Fleet and U.S. Naval Forces for CENTCOM out of Bahrain, so he is intimately acquainted with Syria and undoubtedly has been tracking the conflict longer than anyone on this list.
He’s a Naval aviator by trade who understands the nature of the beast when it comes to selective strikes. Additionally, he’s an expert in U.S. military interests in the Middle East, having spent the majority of his career on the CENTCOM area of responsibility.
Along with assets from Pandolfe’s Sixth Fleet, ships with the Fifth Fleet presently surround Syria and will unquestionably be used in any military strike.
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