Monday, September 19, 2016

Mission Creep

The expansion of a project or mission beyond its original goals, often after initial successes. Mission creep is usually considered undesirable due to the dangerous path of each success breeding more ambitious attempts, only stopping when a final, often catastrophic, failure occurs. 

 The deal for U.S. military cooperation with Russia would expand the current mission in Syria far beyond it's exclusive focus on the Islamic State group. 

And the Pentagon is totally P.O'd about it

 The cease-fire deal reached Sept. 9 calls for the two former Cold War rivals to set up a joint facility for sharing intelligence and coordinating airstrikes against ISIS and al Nusra. The key requirement is adherence to a seven-day cease fire that calls on the Syrian regime and Russia to halt attacks around the city of Alleppo, which has experienced some of the war's most horrific violence, and allow for sustained delivery of humanitarian aid.

The details remain unclear. Some U.S. military officials are suggesting that the "cooperation" between the U.S. and Russia may be narrowly defined to involve only sharing intelligence with the Russians and deconflicting air space rather than expanding the target list for U.S. aircraft.  

 The seven-day ceasefire could be completed by Tuesday. Top U.S. military officials plan to meet Monday to begin hammering out the details of the “joint integration center”  that will be the hub for the military cooperation with Russia, according to one defense official. 

 But U.S. and Russian commanders will likely experience tension over selecting and prioritizing targets. The Russians are more focused on al Nusra because that group poses a bigger threat to Syria’s major cities and the survival of President Bashar al Assad, a key Russian ally.

“Going into this, the U.S. wants overwhelming attention paid to ISIS targets. The Russians would much rather see the targeting of al Nusra. It’s going to be a negotiation on the ground between colonels and one stars that are putting together targeting lists,” Stavridis said.

Those negotiations could get ugly.

“They’re going to get into the nitty-gritty targeting disagreements,” said Jacqueline Lopour, a former CIA analyst who is now a research associate with the Centre for International Governance Innovation  in Canada. “What if there’s a target and the Russians say ‘Our information says this is a terrorist’ and the U.S. says no, it’s not? They say ‘Show us your information’ and the U.S. says 'No, we’re not going to compromise our sources.' It’s going to get messy,” Lopour said. “What happens if someone vetoes a target and the other side goes ahead and strikes it anyway?” she said.

 Complicating matters are the links between al Nusra militants -- who at times fight against ISIS -- and the American-backed rebels that the U.S. considers to be moderate. 

“There’s a lot of ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend,’” Lopour said. “It’s all quite muddled and complex.”

The U.S. has teams of special operations troops on the ground in Syria to support some Sunni Arab militias in fights against ISIS. Other Sunni Arab groups receive money and weapons from the U.S. In some situations, they fight alongside al Nusra militants against common enemies like ISIS.

That ambiguity will frustrate the Russians.