WASHINGTON, May 18, 2015 – US Delta Force entered Syria to capture an Islamic State leader on May 16. The target, identified by his militant alias Abu Sayyaf, was ultimately killed, but the operation raises concerns over future U.S. involvement in the fight against the Islamic State.
The Obama administration decided to intervene against the Islamic State in the summer of 2014. At that point, the president pledged there would be no boots on the ground. In line with the advice of top U.S. military commanders, however, the Obama administration started to send a growing number of military trainers and advisers into Iraq soon after U.S. airstrikes began.
When the airstrikes started to include targets in Syria by the early fall of 2014, renewed concerns of mission creep were raised. At the same time, proponents of far greater military intervention criticized the president for not lunching a full-scale military campaign against the growing threat of the Islamic State.
Given that Abu Sayyat was the individual responsible for sale of oil and gas for the Islamic State, it appears that the goal of the U.S. was to capture him and better understand how the Islamic State functions in order to disable it. The presumed strategy would be to use any intelligence gathered to financially undermine the terrorist group and lessen the need for military intervention.
On the other hand, official statements indicate there are plans to engage in additional special forces operations. The question is, therefore, whether these special forces operations are being used to avoid an increase in U.S. military intervention or represent the beginning of far more U.S. boots on the ground.
Special forces like the Delta Force exist to perform surgical strikes for a myriad of reasons, whether the U.S. is actively engaged in a military conflict or simply gathering intelligence on a potential threat. The use of special forces could be routine or part of a larger campaign.
U.S. special forces were deployed on so many missions during the recent Iraq and Afghanistan wars that they nearly collapsed. Another important question is, therefore, whether the Obama administration plans to substitute a full-scale ground campaign with a war fought solely by U.S. special forces. After all, doing so would likely undermine broader U.S. national security interests.
Furthermore, there is no indication as to when the Islamic State will no longer be a threat. This means that U.S. intervention against the Islamic State will likely continue into the next presidency.
Consequently, there needs to be a very open and honest public debate on the evolution of intervention against the Islamic State. Above all, the American people need to know what is the actual limit to U.S. military intervention in Iraq and Syria.