When the Obama administration announced it would soon put 50 (er... 100 we guess, since soldiers generally have two feet) boots on the ground in Syria, the US media immediately asked the wrong set of questions.
As we noted in “US Sends Troops To Syria: Here Are The Questions The Media Should Be Asking,” the Josh Earnest presser was nothing short of a joke, as the media peppered the Press Secretary with question after question about whether the President had gone back on his promise (made to the American people at least 16 times) to not put US ground troops into combat in Syria.
Of course that completely misses the point. And here’s why:
There have been boots on the ground in Syria and Iraq for years and indeed, the public seems to have forgotten that just five months ago, US commandos executed a raid in Syria that purportedly killed Islamic State’s “gas minister” (and yes, that’s just as absurd as it sounds).
Additionally, Washington has made no secret of the now defunct “train and equip” program for Syrian rebels - clearly, the American public hadn’t thought very hard about who was doing the on-the-ground “training.”
Finally, there’s no telling how many CIA operatives and black ops have been running around in Syria assisisting Saudi Arabia and Qatar’s proxy armies from the very beginning.
Given that, there are two questions everyone should be asking: 1) how does Washington plan to explain to Ankara that the Pentagon is set to embed US ground troops with the YPG in Syria and fly sorties from Incirlik in support of those ground troops when Turkey is literally flying from the exact same airbase on the way to bombing the exact same YPG forces with whom the US is set to embed?, and 2) how does the US intend to make sure that Russia doesn't end up "accidentally" bombing US positions?
Well, one way to answer both of those questions is to send US dogfighters to Syria. The Daily Beast reports:
The U.S. Air Force is deploying to Turkey up to a dozen jet fighters specializing in air-to-air combat—apparently to help protect other U.S. and allied jets from Russia’s own warplanes flying over Syria.
Officially, the deployment of F-15C Eagle twin-engine fighters to Incirlik, Turkey—which the Pentagon announced late last week—is meant to “ensure the safety” of America’s NATO allies, Laura Seal, a Defense Department spokesperson, told The Daily Beast.
That could mean that the single-seat F-15s and the eight air-to-air missiles they routinely carry will help the Turkish air force patrol Turkey’s border with Syria, intercepting Syrian planes and helicopters that periodically stray into Turkish territory.
But more likely, the F-15s will be escorting attack planes and bombers as they strike ISIS militants in close proximity to Syrian regime forces and the Russian warplanes that, since early October, have bombed ISIS and U.S.-backed rebels fighting the Syrian troops.
Well, kind of. We could always be wrong, but it seems unlikely that The Pentagon is going to send F-15s into battle against Russian fighter pilots in western Syria. What's pretty clearly going on here is that Washington is sending just enough air support to ensure that once the Russians and Iranians secure Syria's major cities in the west, the US has the capability to shoot down Russian jets should they threaten whatever the hell Washington's spec ops are trying to accomplish near Raqqa in conjunction with the YPG. Anyway, back to The Daily Beast:
Seal declined to discuss the deployment in detail, but hinted at its true purpose. “I didn’t say it wasn’t about Russia,” she said.
Russia’s air wing in western Syria is notable for including several Su-30 fighters that are primarily air-to-air fighters. The Su-30s’ arrival in Syria raised eyebrows, as Moscow insists its forces are only fighting ISIS, but ISIS has no aircraft of its own for the Su-30s to engage.
The F-15s the U.S. Air Force is sending to Turkey will be the first American warplanes in the region that are strictly aerial fighters. The other fighters, attack planes and bombers the Pentagon has deployed—including F-22s, F-16s, A-10s and B-1s—carry bombs and air-to-ground missiles and have focused on striking militants on the ground.
In stark contrast, the F-15s only carry air-to-air weaponry, and their pilots train exclusively for shooting down enemy warplanes. It’s worth noting that F-15Cs have never deployed to Afghanistan, nor did they participate in the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq. The war in Syria is different.
And while that is indeed interesting, the following is nonsense:
Incirlik and its growing contingent of warplanes is the key to a new northern strategy in the U.S. campaign against ISIS, an unnamed Pentagon official said on Oct. 30. “One of the principal things we will do to put pressure in the border area and into Syria is, quote, ‘thicken’ air operations in northern Syria.”
“That means we want a greater density of planes striking. We need a greater density of intelligence assets developing targets. You—the White House announced A-10s, which are already on the ground at Incirlik, and F-15s forthcoming on—in Incirlik, to help in the counter-ISIL campaign,” the official added, using another acronym for ISIS.
As we've said on too many occasions to count, if Washington and Ankara (both of which are flying from Incirlik) were that concerned about ISIS in the "border area", then they wouldn't have explicitly forbidden the YPG from advancing on ISIS west of the Euphrates.
In the final analysis, Washington has absolutely no idea what's going to happen now that i) the PKK has suffered a bitter electoral defeat at the hands of Erdogan in Turkey, and ii) it's just a matter of time before Hezbollah advances on Raqqa supported by Russian warplanes and so, the Pentagon is sending in the dogfighters to make sure that in case something goes horribly wrong, the US can shoot down whoever happens to be in the sky before the "50" spec ops get bombed.