While there’s little to no chance of US ground forces becoming involved in Syria any time soon, the chemical attack the killed scores of civilians in a Damascus suburb earlier this week has underscored the West’s reluctance to come to grips with the civil war in Syria, in a conflict that has killed as estimated 100,000 people over the past several years.
On Wednesday, the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius blustered that “there would have to be a reaction with force from the international community” if there is conclusive proof that the regime of Bashir Assad gassed his own people, adding “but there is no question of sending troops on the ground.”
In an analysis posted online on Wednesday, Jeffrey White, a defense fellow at The Washington Institute wrote that the attack must be dealt with in some way, since “if the regime has indeed ignored repeated U.S. warnings that systematic [chemical weapons] use is a redline, then it will likely ignore anything less than a clear threat to its ability to conduct the war. Diplomatic and other measures may be useful in a supporting role, especially in pressuring the regime’s allies, but they cannot be counted on to have any real effect on the regime’s calculus.”
While any action taken against the Assad regime would come from the air in the from of cruise missiles or manned and unmanned aircraft, the US Army has also made some noise about its counter-WMD capabilities as of late.
As Defense News reported exclusively in July, the Army is currently working on an in-depth study of how it trains, equips and deploys its 22 chemical battalions.
The Army’s Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) is heading up the study of what capabilities the battalions would need in order to act more as scouts rather than as follow-on forces, service officials say, but no date is available for when the study will wrap up.
The plan comes as another new Army counter-WMD strategy paper is being evaluated by the office of Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, but Army officials declined to describe the paper or anticipate when it would be made public.
Even though chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey recently wrote a letter to Rep. Eliot Engel, D-NY warning that any US action “would also escalate and potentially further commit the United States to the conflict,” American forces have nonetheless made some interesting moves in the region.
Earlier this year, the US Army deployed 110 soldiers from the 1st Armored Division to Jordan for a year-long mission to help the military deal with the civil war in neighboring Syria. The team was tacked with providing assistance “in everything from humanitarian assistance to stability to other things in support of Jordan,” Army Maj. Gen. Dana J.H. Pittard told reporters in April.
And as we reported in June:
The group was sent to bolster an even smaller US military team that has been in Jordan since 2012 working on a variety of chemical weapons and other security issues.
In an April statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel revealed that the Pentagon is also spending more than $70 million to help train and equip the Jordanians “to detect and stop any chemical weapons transfers along its border with Syria, and developing Jordanian capacity to identify and secure chemical weapons assets.”
While the use of US and western ground forces is highly unlikely, the Pentagon is moving to ensure that at the very least its allies might be able to respond if need be.