Petraeus Warns: No U.S. Ground Troops in Syria
Policy + Politics

Petraeus Warns: No U.S. Ground Troops in Syria


Retired U.S. Army General David Petraeus, the man who oversaw the (temporary) restoration of order in Iraq following the Sunni awakening and the subsequent surge of American troops there, doesn’t see much hope for a similar process in Syria.

In an interview with PBS host Charlie Rose, Petraeus warned against putting American troops on the ground in the war-torn country, saying the country “may be a Humpty Dumpty that can't be put back together again … One doesn't know what the various outcomes could be.”

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Petraeus, who was forced to resign as CIA director after acknowledging that he supplied classified materials to his biographer, with whom he was having an extramarital affair, is still remembered by many as the most successful U.S. general in recent generations, even as the two wars for which he is best known, in Iraq and Afghanistan, resulted in states that can’t successfully govern themselves.

Petraeus said that introducing a large U.S. ground force to establish order in Syria is not “sustainable” and that any force on the ground there supported by the U.S. would have to be made up of moderate Sunni fighters – and there currently aren’t enough of those to present an effective opponent to counter the terror group ISIS or the government of dictator Bashar al-Assad, whose forces are backed by the Russian military.

“There are some there. We have been enabling them, supporting them and assisting them for some time,” he said of the moderate Sunnis. “Clearly, if we really get behind them and vow to protect them again from Bashar's air force and so on, I think you would see a lot more.”

In his comments, Petraeus seemed to be describing a no-fly zone in at least part of the country, which would allow Sunni fighters the freedom to organize without being attacked. This would appear to put him in line with a number of presidential candidates, including Hillary Clinton, the former Secretary of State, who has called for establishing such a zone.

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However, Petraeus was plainly not supportive of the suggestion by other candidates, such as former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who have called for more U.S. troops on the ground.

Asked about introducing U.S. troops, he said, "I would not at this point. Again, you need to have a hold force that has legitimacy in the eyes of people that has to be Sunni Arab forces.”

“Again, you can envision — you should have some contingencies if there's some real urgency beyond what we even have now, which is quite a great deal, have some contingencies for taking action, but I would not, I wouldn't take that at this point," he said.

However, he said, "I would make sure that there is a headquarters established, a joint task force, say, up in … Turkey, that is unifying all of the efforts in Syria under a combined joint task force commander.”

Petraeus’s interview with Rose was conducted prior to the news that Turkish fighter planes had shot down a Russian fighter jet on the Turkey-Syria border, an event that, most agree, is likely to greatly complicate the situation in the region.