US special forces in Syria ‘not necessarily going to slip badly into mission creep’
RT:Could this deployment of troops be the sign of a full-scale combat mission?
Jonathan Steele: No, I don’t think so, I think it’s very limited. We don’t know where these people are going to be going, but it sounds as if they are going to northern Syria, where the Kurdish YPG militia are on the offensive against ISIS. Three days ago John Kerry, the Secretary of State, said we are enhancing our air campaign against Daesh, against ISIS to try drive them out of the last 70 miles along the Syrian-Turkish border that they control. So that clearly seems to be the focus – pushing ISIS out of the Turkish border area.
It’s quite a slap in the face for the Turkish government, because they are very worried about the Kurdish militias. The Prime Ministry of Turkey admitted the other day that they have been firing across the border into Syria to try and discourage the YPG militias. And the Americans are now basically telling the Turks, interestingly enough, on the eve of their elections, that America is going to help the Kurdish militia.
RT:We’ve seen similar steps taken in Iraq. Washington though crucially did have permission from the country’s government, which is not the case in Syria. Would you expect any consequences to come out of this decision?
JS: I think many people, ordinary Americans, will be worried that this is the beginning of a new ground war in the Middle East. But Obama, as you quoted him, has ruled that out. These things of course can be subject to ‘mission creep’. We know very well that when the Vietnam war started, president Kennedy talked about the advisers, which is exactly what Obama and Ashton Carter are talking about now: ‘They are just advisers, there are not going to be combat troops.’ But of course it can slip. But I think Obama is aware of that danger, and this is not necessarily going to slip badly into this mission creep.
RT:Do you think that the move will be effective in the operation against Islamic State?
JS: The Kurds have done pretty well against Islamic State. They knocked two of the border crossings that ISIS used to use, and there’s only one left, connecting Turkey and Syria that ISIS controls. If they could knock that out, it would be a major blow to ISIS. So I think that is where the focus is. We are not going to see American troops trying to capture Raqqa, the headquarters of the so-called caliphate.
RT:Were you expecting this move from President Obama?
JS: I think the trouble is that with the election coming up, and the Republicans getting on the war path sort of saying that there has been leadership collapse in Washington and that President is terribly weak… Obama wants sort of a bit of saber-rattling and flexing [of] muscles before he goes out of power in just over a year’s time. So there is this tendency to be more macho and to do more tough-looking things. But I think it’s probably controlled, although it’s quite dangerous.
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