SF Green Beret Advisor Killed in Action in Syria, by a Russian Airstrike
This may be the sensational media headline in the near future. DOD continues to struggle over the strategy to fight ISIS in Syria and with the authorization of up to 50 SOF advisors into Syria, US SOF will have Boots on the Ground in Syria in some capacity. Are we willing as a nation, to risk US SOF and Russian SOF to operate in or near the same battle space? What is a viable strategy with only 50 SOF advisors to combat ISIS in Syria and with the presence of Russian and Iranian forces in Syria?
Line of Effort One: A train, advise and assist program with Sunni Tribes in Syria modeled after the Iraq War Desert Protector to Al Anbar Awakening Program.
In the dark days of Iraq, specifically the Al-Anbar province, US Army Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha’s (ODA) began to train small Sunni Tribes to conduct small scale Counter-Insurgency Operations (COIN) in their local area. The program began with ODAs teaching Tribal members and former re-patriated insurgents; basic light infantry tactics, local force protection TTPs (protecting the populace), and defensive strong points (control the populace). The walk, crawl, and run training methodology was conducted through US Army Special Forces advisors speaking Arabic, knowing Sunni tribal customs and building rapport with them. The training culminated into small-scale Special Forces advised Tribal forces conducting combat operations in the vicinity of Al Qiam, Iraq to fight the insurgent network.
This specific training paradigm is called ‘By, With and Through’. Train the Partner Force to meet their tactical objectives, By culturally attuned advisors, With the Tribal force and Though the Tribal force. The mission was called the Desert Protector program. The program grew rapidly; more tribes bought into the strategy and eventually quelled the insurgent influence and foreign fighter flow in the Al Qaim area of western Iraq. The Desert Protector program in time enabled and transcended into the large scale Al Anbar Awakening. The result was a “partnering of tribes” (Knarr, p.78) to fight the Insurgency of the Al Anbar Providence.
The majority of the ISIS -held area in western Syria is historic Sunni Tribal Areas. The inhabitants do not think of themselves as just Syrians, but to their patriarchal Tribal/Sunni affiliations. SOF Forces have worked extensively with the Tribal Sunnis in the Al-Anbar Providence and other areas of Iraq. Many Special Forces senior NCOs and Officers have longing relationships with Sunni Tribal Sheiks, soldiers and officers. Training and advising Tribal Arabs is nothing new, it is common place.
US Army Special Forces “Green Berets” have demonstrated time and time again that they have the critical combat advisor skills; language, culture expertise and small unit tactics, to conduct Advise and Assist operations in the most austere operational environments. The Montagnards of Vietnam and the fighters of the Northern Alliance of Afghanistan are excellent examples of the application and success of US Army Special Forces combat advisor skills.
The same Desert Protector/Al Anbar Awakening methodology and indirect approach is a viable line of effort to the US strategy in Syria. Working By, With and Through Sunni Syrian Tribes, that have the similar local and regional objectives to combat ISIS can be a valid line of effort to counter ISIS expansion. Partnering with Sunni Tribes that live and know the Area of Operations should be a focused effort to combat ISIS in Syria by the United States.
One mission critical component is the establishment of a “No Fly Zone” over the Area of Operations of the SOF forces conducting Advise and Assist Operations in Syria. The “No Fly Zone” would protect US SOF forces from possible Russian air strikes. If there is not a “No Fly Zone” this could be the unfortunate headline: A SF “Green Beret” Advisor is killed in action in Syria, by a Russian airstrike.
Line of Effort Two: An Unconventional/Hybrid Warfare Program into the ISIS held Sunni areas of Syria.
Nested with the Tribal Train, Advise and Assist operations with protected overhead “No Fly Zone”, the Department Of Defense should commit, develop and support a robust Unconventional Warfare (UW) or Hybrid Warfare campaign in western Syria. The campaign should be focused to combat ISIS in their occupied and held areas. Take the fight to them. Sabotage, Subversion, capture and kill of their C2 nodes by a UW Underground and Guerrilla force. Small-scale isolated raids and coordinated attacks can also be conducted by a UW Guerilla Force. UW operations can be supported by an established Sunni Tribal Auxiliary that has the resources and situational awareness to reduce the compromise of UW operations. The recruitment, development and training of a Sunni Guerilla, Underground and Auxiliary to conduct UW operations against ISIS and can be conducted in the protected areas of a No Fly Zone, the non-ISIS held areas of western Syria and even in Iraq. Guerillas or members of the Underground could infiltrate into ISIS held areas of operations and conduct UW operations, then return to their safe havens of the protected Tribal areas.
These two lines of effort could “awaken” the Sunni Tribes of Syria to counter ISIS. The risk to US SOF forces is extremely mitigated by the establishment of a “No Fly Zone”. The zone would protect the US SOF advisors; reduce risk of Russian/Iranian/US military engagements. The zone would also protect the Tribal Sunni populace protective force and the Guerilla/Underground fighters.
Russian military operations and influence may expand from their center of gravity in around Bassel Al-Assad International Airport in Latakia, Syria. The expansion may increase the chance contact between Russian/Iranian military advisors and US SOF Forces.
By establishing a protective overhead “No Fly Zone” and a defined (FLOT) or buffer zone between US SOF/ Russian/ Iranian Forces would mitigate a proxy Cold War, evolving into a historic strategic blunder or ‘Hot War’. Most importantly, there is less a chance that a “Green Beret has met his fate” or the terrible headline of: A SF Green Beret Advisor is killed in action in Syria, by a Russian airstrike.
Knarr, W. The 2005 Iraqi Sunni Awakening: The Role of the Desert Protector Program. JSOU Report 15-4. JSOU Press. OCT 15