The first was yesterday's hedge by Gen Dempsey, "if that fails to be true (if a new international coalition fails to defeat IS), and there are threats to the United States, then I of course would go back to the president and make a recommendation that may include the use of US military ground forces". (BBC). There are already 1,600 US troops on the ground in Iraq acting as military advisors. It is interesting to note the following recent description of the role of military advisors;
"The Combat Advisor Mission Defined. The combat advisor mission requires US officers and NCOs to teach, coach and mentor host nation (HN) security force counterparts. This enables the rapid development of our counterparts' leadership capabilities; helps develop command and control (C2) and operational capabilities at every echelon; allows direct access to Coalition Forces (CF) enablers to enhance HN security force counterinsurgency (COIN) operations; and incorporates CF lethal and nonlethal effects on the battlefield", CPT Corry Scott, Army Times
Military advisors live and fight with the host nation. Obviously our troops will be shooting ISIS bad guys but it also means they could be engaged against Syrian troops as well. And that's not a good thing…the US isn't the only nation to use military advisors. During the Vietnam war, the Soviet Union and China provided advisors and training to the North Vietnamese. In 2014 this means Syria, Russia, Iran, North Korea and even China could become involved providing training and advisors to ISIS as well.
Thus far, the coalition Gen Dempsey refers to currently consists of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, France, Australia and the United Kingdom (more about the UK in moment).
Saudi Arabia is not interested in drawing the attention of any outside influences to their people so their support will mainly consist of funding and basing rights.
Qatar has a very small military but has provided tremendous support through basing rights (Al Udeid air base and As Saylitah army base).
While Jordan has announced its support, internally Jordanians overall don't support the US strategy. Therefore, don't expect much in the way of military support.
The United Arab Emirates has a sizable military and has already conducted airstrikes against Libya. Along with the basing rights at Al Dahfra air base, the UAE will be an important part of the coalition.
Australia is already sending F-18 fighters and 600 troops. Australia continues to be an important part of US coalition missions. They are a very modern, effective and professional force.
The French remain an enigma. They are capable but their politics keep them from really being a major partner such as the Australians, British and Emirates. France is not part of NATO and often the other coalition partners have a disdain for the French (at least from my experience in Qatar in 2004). France has had numerous internal clashes with the Muslims living in their country. Any involvement of French forces will have to be tempered against the potential for mass rioting in France.
The British are of course the No. 1 ally for the US but this brings us to my second point. The vote for Scottish independence could seriously cause the level of support by the UK to be curtailed this time. The British military was starting to drawdown but should Scotland become independent, they will have to rethink these plans (costing millions of pounds they may no longer have with the loss of Scottish tax revenue). Should Scotland become independent, look for the Basque to make similar demands (causing the French to perhaps reduce their commitment to the coalition).
But if you look, this is the same cast of coalition partners as before. No new partners have been added and this is the flaw with the Obama plan and why Gen Dempsey had to make his hedging comment about troops on the ground. The Arab nations are not much in favor of going after other Arabs and Secretary Kerry is about the last person you have try and build more coalitions amongst the Arab states. Example, two notable tepid reactions were from Egypt and Turkey. The former being a major partner of the US was on terror and the later being a NATO member. This quote from the NY Times pretty much sums that up;
“As a student of terrorism for the last 30 years, I am afraid of that formula of ‘supporting the American effort,’ ” said Diaa Rashwan, a scholar at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, a government-funded policy organization in Cairo. “It is very dangerous.” NY Times
In 2010, Gen. Austin advised President Obama against withdrawing all U.S. forces from Iraq, recommending that the president instead leave 24,000 U.S. troops (down from 45,000) to secure the military gains made in the surge and prevent a terrorist resurgence (Washington Post). Had this advice been followed, it may have prevented ISIS from gaining territory in Iraq in the first place. The interesting question will be to see how troops remain after this latest operation concludes (and when it does).
Meanwhile, if you are a Pacific Rim ally you have to be asking yourself what has happened to the pivot to Asia? If you are Mexico, you may be asking yourself what happened to border relations and immigration reform? If you are South America, especially Argentina, you just go ahead and form UANSUR (Union of South American Nations) and have dialog with Russia and China since your neighbor to the North continues to ignore you and treat you like a bunch of peasants.
3,000 troops are heading into harm's way of a different kind in Liberia. US troops are the most highly trained, best equipped and most professional forces out there BUT they are no less susceptible to contagious diseases than anyone else. All it will take is one slip-up, one failure to completely follow protocol and US troops will come down with ebola (and/or any other contagious disease that may also be raging over there at the same time). Worse case scenario is this happens towards the end of the troops rotation when they have not shown any symptoms and come back home.