Recently, calls for US ‘boots on the ground’ in Syria have gotten louder after ISIS captured a UNESCO World Heritage site in Syria, overran Ramadi in Iraq, and took credit for a suicide bombing in a Saudi mosque.
The US is now reportedly looking at its options including sending so-called “spotters” to Iraq who will help to make US airstrikes more effective and meanwhile, uber hawks like Senator John McCain (who has himself had a bit of trouble shaking rumors that he was once photographed with the same ISIS forces he now wants to annihilate) saying that as many as 10,000 US troops are necessary to turn the tide. From Bloomberg:
Arizona Republican Senator John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, speaks during panel discussion at regional security summit in Singapore.
Islamic State is winning in Iraq, Syria: McCain
Air strikes without foreign troops on the ground providing real time targeting information aren’t effective: McCain.
McCain says he blames President Barack Obama’s decision to withdraw troops from Iraq for emergence of Islamic State.
Here’s a bit of color from Stratfor on the current situation on the ground:
Last week, the Islamic State seized the ancient city of Palmyra from Syrian President Bashar al Assad's forces. The city's capture adds to the many defeats Damascus has suffered over the past six months, compounding its problems as it faces threats on multiple fronts.
The Islamic State's victory in Palmyra is notable for two reasons. First, it has completely isolated loyalist forces in Deir el-Zour province, including the 137th Mechanized Brigade and the elite 104th Republican Brigade. Second, Palmyra's location — a critical crossroads in the center of Syria — gives the Islamic State a strategic base from which it can launch attacks on key locations in the surrounding area.
The Islamic State's maneuvers in Homs province, where Palmyra is located, denote a shift in its strategy in Syria. Previously, the Islamic State fought against the People's Protection Units in Kobani and al-Hasaka while maintaining its positions in Aleppo province.
Earlier in the conflict, Damascus removed its forces from Homs province and deployed them against the growing rebel threat of Jaish al-Fateh in Idlib province. The redeployment, which transferred the elite Tiger Forces and Desert Falcons away from the Islamic State's area of operations, will now be seen as a mistake. The elite forces have been unable to halt rebel advances in Idlib, and their departure from Homs has left the government highly vulnerable on its eastern flank.
The Islamic State now threatens the Syrian government's core territory, which stretches from Damascus to Aleppo. It is likely that the government will try to take the fight to Islamic State forces stationed in Palmyra, if not to recapture the city then to pin the group down in a single location and keep it from spreading to other strongholds. Either way, any action al Assad takes in response to the Islamic State's success in Homs will expose Damascus on other fronts.
Here are the visuals...
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Indeed it appears as though President Bashar al-Assad is well on his way to losing control. We'll close with what we said last week:
As you can see, there are now plenty of excuses to put boots on the ground first in Iraq, and then in Syria. Put simply: if there was ever an opportune time to play the ISIS card on the way to ousting Assad and securing a route for Qatari natural gas to flow to Europe thus breaking Gazprom (and Putin’s) stranglehold, this is surely it.