Petraeus: Ground Forces Needed in Syria to Defeat ISIS

Gen. David Petraeus said the United States has to have a ground force in Syria if its goal is to defeat the Islamic State.

“I think that the limiting factor all along in Syria has been the absence of a Sunni Arab moderate force that we could support. The fact is, I don’t care what your objective is in Syria, if your objective is that Bashar must go, you have to have a Sunni Arab force that’s going to get him to go,” the former CIA director said at the Brookings Institution during a discussion about Michael O’Hanlon’s book The Future of Land Warfare.


“If your objective is to get to the diplomatic table, and we’re there now, to a degree, you have to have a military context. There is no military solution, as everyone is fond of saying. There is a military context that has to be established without which no one is going to go to the negotiating table, or at least they won’t negotiate seriously. And by the way, if you want to degrade and defeat the Islamic State and the al-Qaeda affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra and the Khorasan Group, the al-Qaeda element sent there for establishment of a cell in Northern Syria, you’re going to have to have a ground force.”

Despite his emphasis on the need for ground forces, Petraeus said the U.S. military is able to do a lot with air capabilities.

“It’s very, very important to note that our capabilities now are just so vastly greater than when we did the fight to Baghdad. The armada of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft that we have over the skies in Iraq and Syria is just breathtaking,” he said.

Petraeus, the former commander of U.S. Central Command, also said there are currently not enough Special Forces.


“There’s special operation forces writ large, and I’m talking now about both so-called black special operations, the special mission units, publicly known as Delta Seal Team Six and the Rangers, for over the last decade under JSOC control, conducting targeted, precise, counter-terrorist operations, as many as 10 to 15 per night on average during the surge in Iraq, and just about that during the surge in Afghanistan as well, and there’s never enough of those, frankly, and there certainly aren’t enough of the …Green Beret Special Forces,” he said.

“The Seals and the Marines that can conduct those missions, as well, and did so very skillfully in Afghanistan, there’s just never enough of them – and I know because I tried to find every single one in the inventory, and tried to get them into Iraq, Afghanistan or the greater Central Command area. So number one, even in steady state times, we end up having to augment them quite considerably, or literally, use conventional forces to perform missions that under ideal circumstances, you would use Green Berets again, or Seals or Marines,” he added.

Petraeus told the audience Syria might be the “Humpty Dumpty that can’t be put back together again.”


“In a perfect world, we’d love to see a multi-ethnic, multi-sectarian, inclusive government evolve, but I think that becomes more and more remote the longer the fighting goes on,” he said.


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