Saturday, August 20, 2016

Taking the Proxy Out of Proxy War?

How bad is our foreign policy? We have tried to pivot to Asia while downgrading Europe and the Middle East in our hierarchy of interests, but may find that we fight Russia in Syria. That's how bad.

Kurds in Syria are fighting for themselves remember, as we see Kurds fight Assad's forces over a city in northeast Syria:

Civilians fled a city in northeastern Syria where government warplanes bombed Kurdish-held areas for a second day on Friday, as the Syrian army accused Kurdish forces of igniting the conflict by trying to take over the area.

The fighting this week in Hasaka, which is divided into zones of Kurdish and Syrian government control, marks the most violent confrontation between the Kurdish YPG militia and Damascus in more than five years of civil war.

We hope that the Kurds can spearhead our efforts to win in Syria, but they will prove less willing to spearhead offensives to take territory that isn't basically Kurdish or important to consolidating Kurdish territory:

[Faysal Itani, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council,] said the United States would increasingly be forced to contend with the fact that its military objectives may differ from those of the Syrian Kurdish forces it has leaned on to fight the Islamic State. Kurdish forces appear to be focused on their own territorial gains over the U.S. goal of capturing Raqqa.

“The main difference is that the [Kurdish force] is highly enthusiastic about moving west through Aleppo province toward Afrin canton,” Itani said. “I expect they’ll come under U.S. pressure to feel otherwise and head to Raqqa. At best, you’ll have a less motivated Kurdish component.”

So yeah, the Kurds work with us to take Manbij from ISIL--who Assad's forces also fight.

But the Kurds will fight Assad, too. Which makes our ground forces inside Syria de facto part of the anti-Assad coalition despite our total disinterest in really working to overthrow Assad.

In that regard, isn't this all sorts of sphincter-tightening interesting?

On Thursday, the United States sent fighter jets to head off air strikes conducted by regime planes and to protect coalition advisers, but the Syrian planes had left by the time they arrived.

It was apparently the first time the coalition had scrambled jets in response to a regime action, and possibly the closest call yet in terms of Syrian forces coming close to killing American or coalition advisers.

"This was done as a measure to protect coalition forces," Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis said.

The warning of Coalition fighters overhead didn't stop the Syrian aircraft from bombing, although the next day there may have been some effect:

Two Syrian regime warplanes attempted to fly to the area again on Friday, but were met by coalition aircraft, a US defense official said in a statement.

"The presence of the coalition aircraft encouraged the Syrian aircraft to depart the airspace without further incident," he said. "No weapons were fired by the coalition fighters."

Perhaps the show of force was enough.

But perhaps not. We didn't shoot the Syrian planes down (and this article says the planes were American F-15s). So perhaps the Syrians learned that we won't shoot before they bomb. So next time the Syrian planes might bomb and then run fast to see how that goes.

Which means that Coalition fighters will have to shoot down the attacking aircraft on the way in to protect Western special forces on the ground even if we didn't want to protect Kurdish forces or civilians from Syrian bombing.

And what if the Russians decide to join in the bombing to see if we are as willing to shoot at them?

Ah, now your pucker factor goes up.

Even if we keep American fighters away from direct air-to-air combat, that gets dicey.

And with Russian fighters and air defense missiles in Syria, with many months of watching our air effort over Syria to guide their actions, might not Russia try to plink an F-22? Knocking down just one would dent America's military reputation and cause Russia's to soar.

When wars drag on and on, bad things happen.

Pity we didn't put our weight behind the uprising in early 2012 when the death toll was 400,000 lower, ISIL was actually a JV team, Russia was just watching, poor Moslem (and largely male) "refugees" weren't pouring into Europe, Assad was reeling, and jihadis were a minor factor in the rebellion, eh?

But we thought further "militarising" the conflict was a bad idea, you'll recall.

UPDATE: On Friday we sent F-22s to intercept Syrian planes:

The U.S. military on Friday dispatched two F-22 Raptors stealth fighter jets to intercept a pair of Syrian Su-24 Fencer aircraft that flew in the vicinity of Hasakah, Syria, according to news accounts citing an unnamed Pentagon official.

That makes me nervous. The F-22 is no invisible. It's tough to spot on radar. So it is best when it detects targets beyond the target's ability to detect the F-22 and then shoots the target down with long-range missiles.

Doesn't this type of interception just allow the targets to potentially close the range enough to get a visual ID and so negate the plane's main advantage? If it closes with us, do we really shoot "just in case" the Syrian planes want to shoot?

Or do we let them get closer to avoid an incident only to give them a chance to take a shot at our planes.