Thursday, December 10, 2015

Bring the Zone a Little Lower

I strongly support the Pentagon's reluctance to establish a no-fly zone over portions of Syria. I wanted it in the past, when Russia would have had to challenge us. But now with Russian planes and missiles in that air space, it is too risky. But there is a zone I'd like to see: a Precision Fire Zone.

Congressional critics of the administration's handling of Syria didn't like the Air Force's defense of not establishing a no-fly zone over northern Syria:

"If we're asking the question, 'Can we do it?' the answer is 'yes.''" said Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "Are we willing to engage the potential of a direct conflict with the Syrian integrated air defense system or Syrian forces or, by corollary, a confrontation with the Russians, should they choose to contest the no-fly zone?"

Those are the questions that have been asked, Selva said, and answered.

"We have not recommended it because the political situation on the ground and the potential for miscalculation and loss of American life in the air in an attempt to defend the no-fly zone don't warrant the no-fly zone."

The response by Selva, the second-highest military officer in the country and chief adviser to President Barack Obama, visibly angered some members of the committee, particularly its chairman, Sen. John McCain.

The Air Force is right. Two months ago, I came to the same conclusion despite my earlier support for an air-patrolled safe zone:

It simply isn't possible to establish a no-fly zone over Syria now that Russia is on the ground and flying over Syria. And loud talk just won't be believed by the Russians after watching us retreat from serious confrontations for the last 7 years. But we can act in Syria.

If we had established the no-fly zone earlier, Russia would be in the position of upsetting the status quo and provoking a US-Russian clash if they started bombing anti-Assad rebels.

Now we would provoke a possible clash by establishing and enforcing a zone in the face of Russian air strikes.

We'd have a bigger problem in that while we could no doubt smash the Russian air expeditionary force and destroy their ground-based air defenses in Syria, Russia would retain the ability to escalate in a region where they have conventional military superiority--against the Baltic NATO states.

Russia would totally trade the loss of their expeditionary force in Syria for a pretext to go after the Baltic states and hopefully break the NATO guarantee by negotiating the end of a Russian-NATO confrontation with Russian troops still holding territory in Estonia, Latvia, or possibly even Lithuania.

Heck, even if we could guarantee no US-Russian clash in Europe, we'd still give the Russians a chance to dent our military reputation by shooting down an F-22 over Syria.

So risking a direct US-Russian conflict in Syria is not in our interest.

Not that I felt we should just let Russia fight the war without opposing them indirectly.

Indeed, in an update to that post I proposed a different kind of safe zone for northern Syria:

Oh, and given that it will be difficult to safely provide air support for rebels in the western part of Syria because of Russia's planes and air defenses, why not use MLRS-launched ATACM long-range precision missiles placed in Turkey and Jordan? They have a range of 180 miles.

These long range missiles would help support rebels without risking air-to-air combat.

And if rebels start pushing away from the borders? Well, by then the Russians will be evacuating their forces and the skies will be cleared for our air power.

We could use the cheaper HIMARS, too, but I like the protection on the MLRS in case the Syrians fire at them. Shoot and scoot, people.

I'd focus strikes on the best Syrian units and Hezbollah forces.

And any Iranians, if the administration can get past their fantasies of making Iran a responsible (non-nuclear) regional partner.

We can risk cheaper drones flying over northern Syria to direct missile fire, but a lot of the targeting could be done from outside Syrian air space, I bet. We might even have non-US special forces on the ground to help designate targets.

Given that Russia deployed S-400 air defense missiles to Syria, let's see how well they do in the anti-missile role against our ATACM strikes.

And even if Russia's S-400s can shoot down our missiles, we will see how long Russia can keep those missile batteries supplied with missiles, eh? Let's stress their logistics.

So how about a Precision Fire Zone?

UPDATE: And do it before Putin engineers a Free Syrian Army Awakening to flip them to his side:

President Vladimir Putin said on Friday Russia supports the opposition Free Syrian Army, providing it with air support, arms and ammunition in joint operations with Syrian troops against Islamist militants.

But no, our president and secretary of state are in Paris discussing climate change.

UPDATE: Are the Iranians reducing their commitment of fighters to Syria?