Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

In Syria, we finally may be fighting the way we should have in Iraq and Afghanistan

As I look at American force structure for the Syrian war, I wonder if this is actually the way we should have been fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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As I look at American force structure for the Syrian war, I wonder if this is actually the way we should have been fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

My impression is that it is a combination of air strikes, Special Ops raids, and CIA Special Activities Division work with other players, is doing quite a lot of damage to ISIS. On top of that, political cohesion is demonstrated by high-profile but relatively ineffective bombing by allies. This is high impact, low profile. There are no big permanent bases in Syria with salsa nights, fun runs, and ice cream stands for hordes of FOBBITs. And no big conventional units stomping all over the place without a real idea of what they should be doing.

Rather, this operation has a footprint so light as to be almost invisible. It appears to be having a genuine effect. If I were inclined to military rhyming, I would say that the combined effect is that ISIS is being “racked and stacked.”

As I look at American force structure for the Syrian war, I wonder if this is actually the way we should have been fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

My impression is that it is a combination of air strikes, Special Ops raids, and CIA Special Activities Division work with other players, is doing quite a lot of damage to ISIS. On top of that, political cohesion is demonstrated by high-profile but relatively ineffective bombing by allies. This is high impact, low profile. There are no big permanent bases in Syria with salsa nights, fun runs, and ice cream stands for hordes of FOBBITs. And no big conventional units stomping all over the place without a real idea of what they should be doing.

Rather, this operation has a footprint so light as to be almost invisible. It appears to be having a genuine effect. If I were inclined to military rhyming, I would say that the combined effect is that ISIS is being “racked and stacked.”

As the president said with a certain amount of satisfaction this week, “You know, when I said no boots on the ground, I think the American people understood generally that we’re not going to do an Iraq-style invasion of Iraq or Syria with battalions that are moving across the desert.” (Simultaneous translation: “Hey, I figured out the American people don’t care as long as the presence is small, and not on the front pages.”)

Indeed, what we are doing now is almost an American version of the Iranian presence in Iraq, 2005 to 2009. And they now run a big part of Iraq. I still would like to read a study of the Iranian presence in Iraq — it strikes me as a model of a training, advisory and surgical strike operation (TASSO).

No wonder word on the street has it that Gen. Joseph Votel, currently the chief of Special Operations Command, will be the next commander of Central Command, the U.S. military headquarters for operations in the Middle East.

Photo credit: j. botter/Flickr

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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