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Obama Is Taking Personal Control Over The War Against ISIS In Syria

Obama Is Taking Personal Control Over The War Against ISIS In Syria
DefenseDefense3 min read


REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Obama at the White House in Washington, July 31, 2014.

US President Barack Obama will personally sign off on any airstrike targeting Islamic State militants in Syria, Julian Barnes and Carol Lee of The Wall Street Journal report.

With the high level of personal control in Syria, "Obama can better ensure the operation remain focused on his main goal for that part of the campaign: weakening the militants' hold on territory in neighboring Iraq."

The U.S. has conducted 174 strikes in Iraq and is preparing Islamic State (aka ISIS) targets in Syria. Obama has sent hundreds of special operations advisors to Iraq to assist Iraqi Security Forces and Kurdish peshmerga while asking Congress to grant the authority to train and arm vetted factions of the Syrian opposition.

Officials told WSJ that the commander-in-chief "wants to make sure the military actions in Syria are more like the counterterrorism operations in Somalia or Yemen."



Obama first detailed the "counterterrorism strategy" model last week, and NBC correspondent Richard Engel subsequently blasted the Somalia-Yemen as an "oversimplification" and "wildly off-base" because both of the African governments cooperate with the U.S. and American special forces are on the ground.

"It's not at all the situation we are seeing in Iraq and Syria," Engel said, noting that Assad is a hostile adversary of the U.S. Furthermore, Iraq's government is heavily influenced by Iran, Assad's main backer.

Nevertheless, it seems that the U.S. commander-in-chief is focused on ISIS while avoiding Assad. Obama said he would retaliate if U.S. planes are targeted in Syria, but Secretary of State John Kerry said that the U.S. would "communicate" with Assad's government to avoid any potential clashes.

Meanwhile, the U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels fighting Assad are currently being bombed out of Aleppo, Syria's largest city and the last urban area where the FSA has a significant presence, while ISIS continues to be largely left alone.

And Washington has hinted that it wants the FSA to primarily fight ISIS as opposed to Assad. But the nationalist Syrian rebels are furious at this demand and have vowed to use any support provided to them against the brutal regime.

It's A Trap

The immediate danger of Obama's Syria strategy is that the FSA would be effectively wiped out before U.S. training program, which will take 8-12 months to deploy fighters, makes an impact.

Basically, it's a trap given that the primary objective of Assad and his backers in Tehran and Moscow since the beginning of the Syrian uprising has been to create a choice between the regime and Sunni extremists such as ISIS.

cartoon syria assad


A cartoon depicting Assad's basic strategy.

"A major step in the achievement of this objective would be the killing of the nationalist opposition in Aleppo and elsewhere," Fred Hof, a former special adviser for transition in Syria under then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, wrote in the Atlantic Council.

Hussam Marie, the Free Syrian Army spokesman for northern Syria, told The New York Times that the loss of FSA positions in and around Aleppo would be "unrecoverable" and "a blow to our shared goals of a moderate Syria."

Hof told NYT that the U.S. is "unconsciously walking into an ambush" as Assad and ISIS obliterate the revolutionaries.

In any case, Obama is now taking control of a conflict that has been shaped by his reluctance to be involved in the Middle East amid attempted rapprochement with Iran.

Consequently, it seems that the president "is still keeping the [Syrian] civil war at arms length, still skeptical of building up the FSA, and as unwilling as ever to support the ouster of Assad," Mike Doran, senior fellow at the Center for Middle East Policy, told Business Insider earlier this week.

"Practically speaking, Obama is in an alignment with Iran against ISIS," Doran added. "That includes alignment with Assad."