Barefoot Boomer is a U.S. Army officer and has served in both the Infantry and Armor. He is currently a Strategic Planner serving in Texas. He can be found on Twitter at @BarefootBoomer. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, organization, or group.
National Security Situation: Civil war, humanitarian, and international crisis in Syria.
Date Originally Written: November 23, 2016.
Date Originally Published: December 19, 2016.
Author and / or Article Point of View: Barefoot Boomer is a Strategic Planner with the U.S. Army and has previously served in the Operation Inherent Resolve Coalition Headquarters which leads the U.S. effort against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Background: Since the civil war in Syria began in 2011 there has been no limit to the suffering of the Syrian civilian population. Not only has the violence caused regional instability and the largest refugee crisis in recent history, but the cost in civilian lives has grown exponentially, the siege of Aleppo being a prime example. Thousands of civilians have been under siege in Aleppo for over two years, victims of Syrian and Russian aerial attacks. Civilian targets, including hospitals and neighborhoods, have been bombed killing many. Aid convoys attempting to relieve the siege have also been attacked by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian supporters.
Significance: Nature abhors a vacuum. So does U.S. foreign policy, hence the reason why the U.S. seeming inaction in Syria is mind-boggling to some. Disturbing images of dead civilians, including heartbreaking pictures of young children, have provoked calls for the international community to “do something.” The lawlessness and indiscriminate targeting of civilians as well as the huge flood of refugees streaming out of Syria has turned a civil war into an international crisis. As the U.S. is the leader of the anti-ISIS Coalition, and would be the main executor of, and bear the brunt of any operation, it is prudent to understand the U.S. position as well as implications. Any intervention by the U.S. and her allies is also significant to regional neighbors and actors, such as Syria and Russia.
Option #1: Establish a no-fly zone in part of Syria. A no-fly zone is airspace designated as off-limits to flight-related activities.
Risk: There are numerous risks involved in establishing a no-fly zone to protect Syrian civilians and refugees fleeing the ongoing fighting. Militarily, attempting to set up a no-fly zone that could reasonably protect civilians would be a tremendous task. The U.S. and her allies would have to use air power to establish air superiority to protect the area from Syrian and Russian air attacks. This would mean conducting actions to suppress air defenses and destroy Syrian and Russian aircraft, either in the air or possibly on the ground. It would also have to include hundreds, if not thousands, of U.S. ground troops to support air operations. The logistics involved would also be incredibly complex. The political risks are just as daunting. Seizing sovereign Syrian territory in order to establish a no-fly zone with U.S. troops would be a de facto invasion, which would anger Assad’s main ally, Russia. The threat of U.S. and Russia confronting each other would rise exponentially, just as the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, United States Marine Corps General Joseph F. Dunford Jr has insinuated.
Gain: There would be little gain from establishing a no-fly zone in Syria. Not only would the immediate risks outweigh any perceived gains in the long-term but it would not necessarily help those people still trapped inside Aleppo or other population centers.
Option #2: Remove Assad.
Risk: Ultimately, the underlying cause of civilian deaths and suffering in Syria is the Syrian regime itself, led by President Bashar al-Assad. If the U.S. and its’ Coalition of willing allies decided, under the auspices of a Responsibility to Protect Syrian civilians, to attempt to address the underlying cause, they would become directly involved in the civil war and remove Assad from power. The risks in doing so are enormous, not only to the U.S. and the Coalition, but to the Syrian people they would be attempting to help. It would take hundreds of thousands of Coalition troops to do regime change similar to what the U.S. did in Iraq in 2003. The U.S. public has little stomach for another Middle East regime changing war or the spending of blood and treasure that comes with it.
Gain: Removing Assad would most assuredly lift the siege of Aleppo and relieve the horror civilians are experiencing on the ground but it would not necessarily stop the sectarian strife and political upheaval that are at the heart of the civil war. If nothing else U.S. involvement would increase tensions with not only Russia and other regional actors but would embroil U.S. forces in another possibly decade-long occupation and stability operation. More civilians, not less, may be caught up in the post-Assad violence that would certainly hamper efforts at rebuilding.
Other Comments: Any decision made regarding involvement in Syria must come down to risk. How much risk are the U.S. and her allies willing to take to ensure the safety of the Syrian people, and how much is there to gain from that risk. Also, with a new U.S. President assuming office in January 2017, there is uncertainty about whether U.S. Syrian policy will stay the same or radically change. Ultimately, weighing the spending of blood and treasure to establish a no-fly zone in Syria must be bounded within the confines of U.S. national security interests.
 Hinote, C. (2015, May 05). How No-Fly Zones Work. Retrieved November 23, 2016, from http://blogs.cfr.org/davidson/2015/05/05/how-no-fly-zones-work/
 Dunford tells Wicker controlling airspace in Syria means war with Russia. (2016, September 25). Retrieved November 19, 2016, from https://www.c-span.org/video/?c4621738/dunford-tells-wicker-controlling-airspace-syria-means-war-russia-mccain-throws-tantrum-dunford
 Office of The Special Adviser on The Prevention of Genocide. (n.d.). Retrieved November 19, 2016, from http://www.un.org/en/preventgenocide/adviser/responsibility.shtml