I don’t have any grand point here, but have you noticed a trend developing lately? The Pentagon has started embedding US troops with the Syrian Democratic Forces in Raqqa and northern Syria and with Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq, and it’s providing air support for the Iraqi assault on Fallujah. And now, this:
After months of debate, the White House has approved plans to expand the military’s authority to conduct airstrikes against the Taliban when necessary, as the violence in Afghanistan escalates, senior U.S. and defense officials said Thursday.
Several officials said the decision was made in recent days to expand the authority of U.S. commanders to strike the Taliban and better support and assist the Afghan forces when needed in critical operations, using the U.S. troops already in the country. There is a broad desire across the Obama administration to give the military greater ability to help the Afghans fight and win the war.
As an example, U.S. troops are able to partner with Afghan special operations forces, but this new decision would allow commanders to have U.S. troops work more closely with conventional Afghan units in critical battles, including providing close air support or helping to call in strikes. Officials stressed that this will not allow routine U.S. airstrikes against the Taliban, just provide authority to take those actions when commanders believe they are vital to the fight.
US forces were already carrying out occasional airstrikes in Afghanistan, but they were only supposed to be striking terrorist (i.e., al-Qaeda and ISIS) targets or to be used as a last resort if any Afghan forces were being overrun by the Taliban. Now, clearly, that mission has expanded, and it sure sounds like there will be US ground troops working alongside front-line Afghan units as they’d doing with the SDF and the Peshmerga in Syria and Iraq. The drone strike that killed now-former Taliban leader Akhtar Mansour in Pakistan can now be seen in this broader context of an expanded anti-Taliban mission.
So, basically, the past several weeks have been an extended real-life exhibition of the phenomenon of mission creep. And, in Afghanistan at least, there’s really no end in sight. Oh, and the Obama administration is pushing the UN to lift or at least relax arms embargoes on Libya so that Washington can arm and train forces loyal to that country’s new-ish Government of National Accord. Which means maybe we’ll be adding another country to the list soon. Woo-hoo.
Today is the anniversary of the end of the First Barbary War (1801-1805). That was America’s first war against anyone in the Islamic world. There was a specific problem (North African piracy) that called for a specific remedy (securing protection for American ships in the Mediterranean), and still the war was indecisive–hence the (admittedly much smaller-scale) Second Barbary War, in 1815. But once the objective was finally achieved, the military commitment ended. Quite a contrast, I think.