We already know that ISIS is “beyond anything we’ve seen;” that they’re prodigiously well-funded; that they marry radical Islamic ideology with brutal paramilitary tactics; and that they could pose a threat beyond the confines of the Middle East.
What we don’t know is the scope of the immediate threat to U.S. assets in the Middle East outside of Iraq. That’s why President Obama has approved the use of drone technology in Syria to aid in the military’s air surveillance efforts. Via the Wall Street Journal:
The U.S. military’s Central Command, which oversees American operations in the region, requested more surveillance aircraft, including drones, to gather more intelligence on potential Islamic State targets, and officials said they could start flying missions over eastern Syria shortly.
Of course, the question on everyone’s mind is whether or not drone surveillance will translate into the use of drones to take out hostile targets. The U.S. Military’s Central Command, however, has not indicated that they intend to use the drones for that purpose at least for now:
“The Pentagon is preparing to conduct reconnaissance flights over Syria,” a senior U.S. official said. “There is no decision yet to do strikes, but in order to help make that decision, you want to get as much situational awareness as possible.”
It doesn’t help matters that Syria has been locked in its current conflict since early 2011. The Syrian Civil War started three years ago with mostly peaceful protests against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad. Since then, almost 200,000 people have died amidst clashes that have spread beyond Syria and into northern Iraq and Lebanon.
Obama is in a tight spot here: he knows that the Islamic State poses a substantial threat to both America and our allies abroad, but he also knows that any appearance of helping the Assad regime could cause more confusion in an already-chaotic international dynamic. National security advisers worry that appearing too close to the Assad regime could alienate the Sunni populations in Syria and Iraq, which would make defeating ISIS extremely difficult.
Assad has demanded that President Obama notify Syria before any drone flights take place, and Syrian officials have repeatedly stated that any American action taken without the partnership of Syrian forces will be “considered as aggression:”
But Syria seemed intent on capitalizing on the growing clamor among some U.S. officials to expand the current American air campaign — provided the Syrian government is a partner.
Speaking in Damascus, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem appeared acutely aware of how much has changed since last August, when the U.S. was threatening to carry out punitive airstrikes against Bashar Assad’s government in the wake of the chemical attack. Since then, global disapproval has shifted away from Assad and toward the Islamic extremists who are fighting him and spreading destruction across Syria and Iraq.
Al-Moallem told reporters his government is ready “to cooperate and coordinate” with any side, including the U.S., or join any regional or international alliance against the Islamic State group. But he said any military action inside Syria should be coordinated with the government, “which represents Syrian sovereignty.”
For now, the military will use the drones to keep an eye on Syrian hot spots, and start developing “target lists” they can use in the event that President Obama authorizes air strikes against the Islamic State. “We have to be ready,” said [one] defense official. “We are always leaning forward…If there is going to be a shift in policy, developing an accurate picture is the first thing we need.”DONATE
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