The allure of air power and kill lists remains strong:
President Obama is solidifying his legacy as the air war president with his strategy for taking on the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
The escalated use of airstrikes in Iraq and potentially Syria is just the latest example of the president finding it strategically and politically expedient to choose missiles over manpower when fighting enemies abroad.
As good as our air power is (from the Air Force, Navy, Marines, and even the Army with helicopters and drones), its effect is limited without ground troops to focus the air power and to take the ground from weakened enemies shaken by the air power.
So I assume there are boots on the ground.
First, we will have 1,600 boots on the ground after the latest announcement. Somehow they don't count, I guess.
The 475 Americans that President Obama announced during his Wednesday speech that will go to Iraq will embed at the brigade level in the Iraqi army to help them fight more effectively. It looks like we will embed in three division headquarters and three brigades in each of the divisions.
I noted early on in discussions of air intervention that we need core ground forces to exploit our air power. A three-division force striking north that includes the still-good but small Iraqi special forces forces will work on that front.
The Kurds will provide the core force from the northeast and ideally should be the main effort that could cut off the ISIL forces further south confronting the American-embedded Iraqi forces.
And I'd still like to see the Jordanians provide a core force for Anbar to reach Ramadi and Fallujah.
Second, we still need somebody to call in the strikes when the local ground troops are in contact with the enemy. The French already announced they'd have their special forces on the ground to call in their air strikes. I find it hard to believe that the French will be the only contributing country to do so.
If we aren't doing the job, I assume our allies will send in special forces to work with our civilian assets who will do the same thing for us--not violating the no combat forces pledge.
Remember, even though we said we would not put troops on the ground in Libya in 2011, somebody eventually reached the ground to call in those NATO air strikes on Khaddafi's forces.
Back in the day, I think Strategypage called Afghanistan the site of the Special Forces Olympics given all the foreign special forces--even Arab--that quietly fought there against the Taliban.
Perhaps Iraq will be the new Olympics event for killing jihadis.
Third, we must have search and rescue assets for an air campaign.
Or do you really want to risk one of our air crew being captured by ISIL?
So if we don't have these assets complete with troops capable of dropping in to hold the crash site around the crew, be prepared for more beheading videos.
So I assume that we will have search and rescue assets plus quick reaction forces in some combination of Jordan, Kuwait, afloat in the Gulf, Kurdistan, and Turkey.
Boots on the ground are so necessary for an effective air-ground campaign that I assume that the boots are somewhere in some uniform to support our aircraft.
I'm just focusing on Iraq at this point, because I imagine a real effort in Syria--as opposed to a limited effort in Syria to support the Iraq campaign--is some time in the future after ISIL in Iraq is broken.
UPDATE: Or, US boots on the ground will--through the means of a little paperwork--be "civilians:"
Title 50 of the U.S. Code regulates the activities of the Central Intelligence Agency. An often-cited passage is Section 413(b), which deals with presidential approval and reporting of “covert actions.” In essence, this statute gives the president authority, with a proper “finding,” to send U.S. Special Operations forces on paramilitary operations, under the command of the CIA.
I assumed we'd have boots on the ground one way or the other. That's good.
But I'd rather be honest rather than send our own "little green men" into Iraq.