Contrary to his repeated promises, Barack Obama announced on Friday the deployment of U.S. combat forces into Syria to assist local rebels fight I.S.I.S. The political, military and legal morass boggles.
There is no express legal authority for the United States to commit ground troops into Syria. It is not clear exactly who needs help or why. There is no mission statement particular to this situation. There appears to be no exit strategy. The rationale Obama has manufactured is that he has authority under the War Powers act of 2001, even though I.S.I.S. is not al Qaeda, Syria is not Iraq, and Bashar al Assad is not Saddam Hussein.
The area is in northern Syria, reportedly under the control of Kurdish rebels. The force to be deployed is a special operations unit of a few dozen. Their orders are to train and advise the Kurdish rebels, but administration officials acknowledge that the unit will be operating at or on the “front lines,” if such ever can be said to exist in guerrilla warfare, and was expecting to find themselves in firefights sooner or later.
The rebels are also seeking to overthrow Syrian president Bashar al Assad, and may be expected to engage in fighting against the government forces as well. What complicates this to an astronomical level is that the Russians have declared themselves allied with the Syrian government, and will be supporting the government forces with aid, weaponry, and air support.
Air Force A-10 Warthogs and F-15 fighters from bases in Turkey will be committed to the air support of the U.S. forces as and when needed. The Russian air support may well be coming from Russian bases in Crimea or navy carriers in the Black Sea. This may well entail both countries flying through shared airspace on the way in, over and out of Syria. While the Russians have said their main target will also be the I.S.I.S. forces, they may have already conducted air strikes on Syrian-Arab rebel forces. Further, although President Putin has stated that Russia has no intent of committing ground troops to the effort in Syria, President Obama has made exactly the same promise.
There is no other way to look at this other than that the chances of the United States finding itself in a firefight with Russia, either on the ground or in the air, have just increased through the roof.
What can possibly go wrong?