Monday, May 23, 2016

Empty Threat and Real Consequences

Why do we bother pretending that we might take Raqqa?

The American military is warning residents of ISIS’s Syrian capital to leave the city—suggesting that an offensive on Raqqa was imminent, two Pentagon officials told the Daily Beast. ...

There is just one problem: There is no imminent ground or air attack, at least by the U.S.-led coalition. Rather the coalition appears to be the midst of a psychological offensive.

“It’s part of our mess-with-them campaign,” a Pentagon official explained to The Daily Beast.

Mind you, if preparations for an Iraqi assault on Mosul telegraph our intentions, threats like this might lull ISIL into thinking that too is just messing with them and that no attack is imminent.

Unless we've really worked the diplomatic phone lines, no Kurdish force in Syria is about to endure the casualties to take Raqqa from ISIL, and the Arab local irregular forces can't do it.

Nor would Turkey be very happy if the Kurds achieved such a victory, earning credit with the West to be cashed later in ways Turkey won't like.

Of course, perhaps the leaflet drop was intended to disrupt ISIL and keep them busy while General Votel, commander of CENTCOM, visited American special forces inside Syria:

On a secret trip to Syria, the new commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East said Saturday he felt a moral obligation to enter a war zone to check on his troops and make his own assessment of progress in organizing local Arab and Kurd fighters for what has been a slow campaign to push the Islamic State out of Syria.

That makes more sense than just playing mind games for the sake of mind games.

But what do we do if the civilians do believe this warning and flee, expecting rescue any minute?

Do we get the repeat of the 1991 Shia uprisings in southern Iraq after we defeated Saddam's army? Uprisings that we just watched fail as Saddam's forces put them down with heavy casualties?

Or will we drop 173rd Airborne Brigade to rescue those civilians as they are being slaughtered?

I don't like this mess-with-them campaign. The wrong people might get messed up.

UPDATE: While no Kurdish forces seem willing to fight and die for more than their own territory, we are pinning hopes on organizing enough Syrian Democratic Forces, who are Arab, to take Raqqa:

Some 5,000- 10,000 trained fighters are needed for this, plus lots of air support. The American led air coalition will deliver the air support and teams of American air controllers will be provided to make sure the air strikes are as timely and accurate as possible. Most SDF fighters are busy defending territory they already control (nearly 10 percent of Syria) so mustering a force large enough to go after Raqqa has not been easy.

So who knows? Maybe taking Raqqa isn't out of reach.