David Maxwell retired SF Colonel wrote an eloquent piece featured in War on the Rocks, an online foreign policy publication. I’d like to mirror his thoughts, slightly. We spend far more time briefing and talking about unconventional warfare (UW) than we do executing it. But, unfortunately, I think we’re beyond UW for ISIL. Unconventional Warfare is defined as activities conducted to enable a resistance movement or insurgency to coerce, disrupt or overthrow an occupying power or government by operating through or with an underground, auxiliary and guerrilla force in a denied area. Who is occupying what in Syria?
At this point – is ISIL the primary antagonist in Syria or has the situation itself become so involved, Syria as a war zone is the problem. No real solution can be won overnight. Assad remains – and looks like a superman in that many argue he’s winning. This fight is not about Syria any longer; it’s about the alliance between Iran, Syria, and Russia (as China remains in the background). Russia has managed to emerge as of late as a major player; flinging political action and influence external from its borders. Russia has made a significant observation: the U.S. is not guaranteed to take action in the light of a post Cold War Russia, that changes their foreign policy and political calculus. Now, the biggest question, I think, is not – how will we move forward in Syria. But, will Russia let us? That’s a larger issue to be explored.
So, as unconventional warfare goes no one truly occupies the battle space, it’s constantly changing. The ebb and flow of Syria makes it a poor candidate for unconventional warfare, which is somewhat linear. It’s a sophisticated guerrilla campaign against an oppressive regime. At the outset, this would have been a fertile playground for unconventional warfare. In the beginning there was the regime, and there were the rebels, and that was the time for UW. But that time has passed, and there’s no clear way to wage this war.
The U.S. and Russia are considering their first collaboration to coordinate bombing in Syria. If this were to come through, Russia would be at both ends of the spectrum in Syria, both aligned with Assad and coordinating with the U.S. against ISIL. The Russians, like us, are waging a war on terror. Except, our efforts in Syria have been bifurcated as well. Our fight against ISIL and our struggle against Assad are two separate campaigns. The effort against ISIL is called Inherent Resolve; (I’ve mentioned it before, as well as it’s swanky website.) The Pentagon and the intelligence community haven’t been able to separate equity in the Syrian battlefield. Syria is just a mess; it doesn’t seem like anything works. Some of the arms shipped to Rebels to be used against Assad via our Jordanian friends have gone missing, reportedly stolen by Jordanian intelligence. The Jordanians are a long time ally and have historically worked closely with the United States, but we can’t completely trust them to get the job done. It also may mean that no one is taking this seriously, and many are profiting.