An Analysis and Update of the Long War in Syria

Strategy Page describes the situation in Syria. US Air strikes have forced ISIS to disperse but the US is also experienced with dealing the dispersal tactics.

Americans are listening and they have proven tactics to defeat the dispersal tactics ISIL is using to avoid air attack. Dispersal will not make ISIL safe from attack bur it will slow down the rate of loss to air attack. The attacks in Syria have killed about 240 people so far, that’s about three deaths (and over a dozen wounded) per strike. The attacks so far have concentrated on things like command and control (headquarters and communications) and logistics (fuel, vehicles and stockpiles of food and equipment). This causes ISIL long term problems right away and killed or wounded several senior people. Soon the attacks will concentrate on combat forces. This is already happening in Iraq where Kurdish forces, long comfortable working with American troops and air power) are pushing back ISIL in the north and inflicting (with the help of air strikes) lots of ISIL casualties. Because of the threat of air strikes ISIL has to be careful concentrating forces to push back the Kurdish advance.

The Institute for the Study of War has a Sept 24- Oct 2, 2014 update

What the international coalition must do is establish a system where air support can quickly be provided for all anti-ISIL forces on the ground. This is difficult because having trained troops (air controllers) on the ground is the preferred method. But there are hundreds of specific locations anti-ISIL forces are guarding or based in and all are potential targets. This is not a new problem, but how it is handled in Iraq and Syria will determine how quickly ISIL can be reduced from major threat to dangerous nuisance status.

The United States has declared that it will seek to destroy ISIL without putting any troops on the ground in Iraq or Syria. That means no American regular troops will be sent in for offensive combat. That does not apply to Special Forces advisors and ground controller teams. Some Americans will be there to help with security around the massive U.S. embassy compound, and perhaps other American facilities as well. There will also be a lot of security contractors. While these are civilians, many are veterans of the U.S. Army, Marines, Special Forces and so on. Given their civilian status, there may be a temptation to use the contractors if a lot of offensive muscle is needed. By the end of the year there will be at least 5,000 American military personnel in Iraq and even more contractors. That number is expected to grow in 2015 is needed. Hundreds of these will end up in Syria, but the United States will not be saying much about that officially.

Veteran Marine and Special Forces contractors are basically modern mercenaries.

From a prior article, there was a Center for Strategic and Budgetary assessments that having a heavier air campaign with 5000 forces on the ground would cost $4.2 to $6.8 billion per year. If there were an addition 8000 contractors then the cost would be about $10 billion per year. I think this is the low-end estimate. I think it will end up being $20-100 billion/year and it will be 4-10 years to make something like peace. Afterwards, after spending a combined quarter century achieving it again there will be a sustained peace maintaining presence. The way things are going the US will be lucky to have a combined time frame under a Thirty Years War. After that milestone, people would be looking at the hundred years war.

All of the military analysts are talking about a long war in Syria and Iraq. Even the Obama administration talks about a multi-year effort. It has already been 14 years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq if start counting from 2001 but already a 25 year war if we start counting from 1990. The Hundred years war which was 116 years did have periods of peace that lasted 9 years and 16 years. Plus the Hundred Years war counts multiple parties being involved in the conflict. Historians may look at the past decades as a buildup to larger regional middle east war.

Spengler has an analysis of Thirty Year wars.

How does one handle wars of this sort? In 2008 I argued for a “Richelovian” foreign policy, that is, emulation of the evil genius who guided France to victory at the conclusion of the Thirty Years War in 1648. Wars of this sort end when two generations of fighters are killed. They last for decades (as did the Peloponnesian War, the Napoleonic Wars and the two World Wars of the 20th century) because one kills off the fathers die in the first half of the war, and the sons in the second.

This new Thirty Years War has its origins in a demographic peak and an economic trough. There are nearly 30 million young men aged 15 to 24 in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Iran, a bulge generation produced by pre-modern fertility rates that prevailed a generation ago. But the region’s economies cannot support them. Syria does not have enough water to support an agricultural population, and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of farmers into tent cities preceded its civil war. The West mistook the death spasms of a civilization for an “Arab Spring,” and its blunders channeled the youth bulge into a regional war.

The way to win such a war is by attrition, that is, by feeding into the meat-grinder a quarter to a third of the enemy’s available manpower. Once a sufficient number of who wish to fight to the death have had the opportunity to do so, the war stops because there are insufficient recruits to fill the ranks. That is how Generals Grant and Sherman fought the American Civil War, and that is the indicated strategy in the Middle East today.

The Bush Administration was too timid to take on Iran; the Obama administration views Iran as a prospective ally. Even Neville Chamberlain did not regard Hitler as prospective partner in European security.

With Iran neutralized, Syrian President Basher Assad would have had no choice but to come to terms with Syria’s Sunni majority; as it happens, he had the firepower to expel millions of them. Without the protection of Tehran, Iraq’s Shia would have had to compromise with Sunnis and Kurds. Iraqi Sunnis would not have allied with ISIS against the Iranian-backed regime in Baghdad. A million or more Iraqis would not have been displaced by the metastasizing Caliphate.


The recognition should be made that the US will be there for decades and making that commitment official will make it easier to win support and to plan for the sustained effort. Just as there are troops in Korea and Germany many decades later.

I have laid out a more sustainable plan using a US foreign legion. If Spengler is right then this would have to be scaled up to 1 million soldiers.

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