Senate panel resolution for a limited strike on Syriaincluded a few key lines that could foreshadow the involvement of ground forces.
Julian Barnes of the WSJ reports [emphasis ours]:
The revised options under development, which reflect Pentagon concerns that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has dispersed his military equipment, include the use of Air Force bombers to supplement the four Navy destroyers armed with missiles that are deployed in the eastern Mediterranean. Initially, Pentagon planners said they didn’t intend to use aircraft in the proposed strikes.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a resolution Wednesday saying a goal of U.S. policy will be to “change the momentum on the battlefield” in Syria’s civil war and speed a negotiated removal of Mr. Assad. The measure would ban the use of ground forces in Syria “for the purpose of combat operations” and sets a 60-day limit for Mr. Obama to launch strikes. It includes a possible 30-day extension if Mr. Obama determined that was needed to meet the resolution’s goals.
Despite several recent posts insisting the administration and Congress have opened the door for a more escalated conflict, Obama insisted from the beginning that the goal of the strikes is “not about regime change.”
But now it seems that things have escalated. Even in Libya, we learned that air operations most often require boots on the ground.
Transcripts from Bill O’Reilly’s “The Factor” on Fox News, March 24, 2011 [emphasis ours]:
O’Reilly: A former Army intelligence officer, and from Boston, Col. David Hunt, a Fox News military analyst. So we hear special forces are already on the ground in Libya. True, Col. Hunt?
Hunt: Yes, absolutely. You’ve got British service been in there about three weeks ago and actually got captured and released. The French GIGN have been in there and our special forces and our U.S. intelligence operatives and their assets. We do not conduct operations like this, large scale air operations, without people on the ground.
The administration went to great lengths to deny that any special operations forces were on the ground in Libya, despite assertions to the contrary. Later though, somewhat prophetically to today, the “loss” of several SA-7 surface-to-air missiles required the deployment of a moderately sized ground force of active duty troops and CIA operatives.
Flash forward two years to Assad’s stockpile of chemical weapons, reportedly the largest in the world, and likely dispersed across the country.
If the aim is now to shift the momentum on the ground in order to force the ouster of President Assad, those chemical weapons and their locations will have to be secured. The U.S. has been training rebels to secure these stockpiles for quite some time, but the presence those fractious, disorganized rebel groups offer is superficial at best.
The Pentagon last year estimated that it would take 75,000 ground troops to secure those chemical weapons stockpiles — and it’s likely that estimate is not in terms of rag-tag rebels, but rather modern, armed and trained soldiers.
Still, Washington maintains that there is “specific writing” in the resolution which bans putting troops on the ground. Though that resolution needs to be renewed every 60 days. The Libyan bombing campaign took seven months.
It’s well within reason to expect the resolution to be amended during this campaign in order to support “changing needs on the ground” — a common phrase for military commanders — leading to troop deployments.
With Israel a stone’s throw from that stockpile — and the Iron Dome missiles defence system useless against chemical dispersant — securing it would be top on Obama’s list, should the regime suddenly change.
The New York Times noted last year that Hezbollah militants had moved their camps close to these chemical weapons depots.
An easterly wind and a shower of chemical weapons could put most of Israel underground in gas masks.
Seeing those weapons move, as David Sanger wrote last November, could force President Obama, as he said in August, to “change [his] calculus” about inserting American forces into Syria.”
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