Col. David Hunt: Trump’s Syria decision looks frivolous in a region where every move is deadly serious

On the Bad Guy side of the Syrian table sit Russia, Iran, Turkey and, of course, Syria. On the Good Guy side of the same table sit the United States, the Syrian Kurds and various rebel factions.

Or rather that was the case until this week, when the leader of the free world tweeted and then ran a rather silly news release in which he said we had defeated ISIS and are now pulling our 2,000-plus military troops out of Syria.

Let us discuss the immediate repercussions of President Trump’s decision. As few presidential decisions should ever be considered in a vacuum, this one is no exception. One of the many unintended consequences of our invading Iraq is that it helped establish Iran as the super power in the Middle East. Iran is now fully embedded in Iraq, Lebanon and Syria, to name only a few places.

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So for starters, the president’s decision gives Iran unfettered access to Syria – which, from a military, intelligence and security position, is totally unacceptable. Here are just a few thoughts on what we know is happening because we are now out of Syria:

  • We lost Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis. I know this guy, served with him for a year. He is smart, tough, dedicated, a Marine’s Marine and respected by all.
  • We will have less on-the-ground intelligence gathering capability in a country and region where we cannot afford to lose.
  • There will be a permanent Russian naval base in South West Syria.
  • Syria will continue to be a safe haven and sponsor of terrorist.

For all of us, the rather embarrassing manner in which we have unilaterally, totally and without warning (not to mention in a rather flighty manner) announced to the world that we are out is more than troubling.

We have abandoned the Syrian Kurds. Four years ago, ISIS sealed the border between Syria and Turkey. Neither the Turks nor the U.S. were willing to step in. The Syrian Kurds did. Our leaving Syria puts these brave people in direct danger.

Russia, Turkey and Iran will now be able to directly affect the Middle East using Syria as a base.

There is a real possibility that ISIS will reconstitute in Syria – and we should not be surprised that malleable groups such as ISIS or Al Qaeda or the Taliban will grow back like the cancers they are. Without U.S. intelligence and Special Forces on the ground, without U.S. bombing in Syria, it is a certainty that ISIS (which was never totally defeated)  will get stronger.

What should be done – and should have been done years ago – is to use a small powerful force of between 500 and 1,000 men. These should be Special Operations Forces only. Their one mission should be Counter Terrorism and NOT nation building, which we have failed at for 17 years now in Afghanistan. This force should have drone and fixed wing aircraft support and it should kill terrorists and those that support them.

This option should be used not only in Syria, but in Afghanistan as well.

Syria is serious business. There is little in the Middle East that is frivolous. Thus we should never act like it is. Unfortunately, the president’s decision appears to be just that.