US Secretary of State John Kerry provoked widespread speculation when he referred in testimony before the Foreign Relations Committee last week to “significant discussions” within US President Barack Obama’s administration about a “Plan B” in Syria. The speculation was further stoked by a “senior official” who told CBS News that options under consideration included “‘military-like’ measures that would make it harder for the regime and its allies to continue their assault on civilians and US-backed rebels.”
But “Plan B” is more complicated than that. A report by CNN’s Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr on 26 February leaves little room for doubt that the administration’s cupboard of policy options is actually bare. An unnamed “senior US official” at the Pentagon admitted that “Plan B” is actually “more an idea than a specific course of action”. In other words, the administration’s national security policymakers believe something more should be done in Syria, but they are not at all clear what could be done now.
The official said three options were under discussion, none of which is even close to being realistic in the present situation: an increase in US Special Forces on the ground, an increase in arms assistance to fighters opposing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and a no-fly zone.
The option of adding more Special Forces is only relevant to a counter-terrorism strategy aimed at the Islamic State (IS) group, not at preventing the further weakening of anti-Assad forces. Special Forces are now in Syria to help the one reliable ally against IS – the Kurdish YPG. Sending them into provinces to fight the Syrian army or Hezbollah wouId be an overreach of stunning proportions.
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