Putting US troops in Syria will lead to another devastating counterinsurgency war

U.S. troops have been sent to Syria and even more Americans might be sent into the war-torn country, says Defense Secretary Ashton Carter. This decision, however, will lead to a strategic disaster and yet another American counterinsurgency war. After Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, sending more Americans into civil wars involving asymmetric warfare results in the overextension of our military, the draining of our resources and the creation of new threats.

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America has already spent $500 million training Syrian rebels, but recently had to end the program. According to TIME magazine, "Officials say training rebels has not been effective in combatting ISIS [the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria]." Furthermore, our war against ISIS has already cost $2.4 billion, with limited effectiveness. With Iraq in chaos and Americans in Afghanistan staying longer than by President Obama promised, our nation has already learned that prolonged engagements in these regions hasn't achieved success. There's a reason retired Lt. Gen. Daniel Bolger wrote Why We Lost, and as Bolger states regarding Iraq and Afghanistan, "They should have been limited incursions and [then] pull out — basically like Desert Storm."

The U.S. Army's Tactics in Counterinsurgency manual states that "At its heart, a counterinsurgency is an armed struggle for the support of the population." However, this will be even more impossible in Syria than it was in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2012, The Christian Science Monitor listed five warring factions in Syria: religious minorities, foreign fighters, the Free Syrian Army, the Syrian opposition and the Bashar Assad regime.

In reality, though, there are actually a great deal more than five factions once terrorist groups are added to the quagmire. In addition to ISIS, there are other terror groups in Syria. A recent Reuters article explains how unintended consequences result when major powers attempt to influence a civil war:

Syrian rebels trained by the United States gave some of their equipment to the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front in exchange for safe passage, a U.S. military spokesman said on Friday, the latest blow to a troubled U.S. effort to train local partners to fight Islamic State militants.

The rebels surrendered six pick-up trucks and some ammunition, or about one-quarter of their issued equipment, to a suspected Nusra intermediary on Sept. 21-22 in exchange for safe passage, said Colonel Patrick Ryder, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, in a statement.

It's difficult to blame rebels who barter U.S. weapons for "safe passage," especially given the bloody nature of the sectarian violence in Syria. No matter what we do in Syria, or any other civil war, the fact is that local fighters will do whatever is possible to survive.

The biggest dilemma with increased U.S. involvement is that getting into a quagmire is easier than getting out of this type of conflict. As for how ISIS and others will fight us in Syria, just look at Iraq and Afghanistan to see that improvised explosive devices (IEDs) will be a major obstacle. As noted in USA Today, insurgents and guerrilla fighters have find ways to harm U.S. soldiers despite our vastly superior military might:

Somewhere between more than half to two-thirds of Americans killed or wounded in combat in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have been victims of IEDs planted in the ground, in vehicles or buildings, or worn as suicide vests, or loaded into suicide vehicles, according to data from the Pentagon's Joint IED Defeat Organization or JIEDDO.

That's more than 3,100 dead and 33,000 wounded. Among the worst of the casualties are nearly 1,800 U.S. troops who have lost limbs in Iraq and Afghanistan, the vast majority from blasts, according to Army data.

First and foremost, it's immoral to send Americans back to wars where IEDs are the biggest enemy. Second, the cost has added to our debt. Thus far, the U.S. has spent $6 trillion in Iraq and Afghanistan. In contrast, an IED can cost a terrorist group $30. While we send Americans to fight in urban areas that include patrols and nighttime raids, all the enemy has to do is plant an IED and wait. In Syria, with the country torn from war and others like Russia now involved, American soldiers will have to contend with a number of unique factors.

The nature of a counterinsurgency war is that it limits the advantages of a superior military and allows a much weaker force to dictate the pace and the nature of battle. In addition, no matter how much we assist, train or fund friendly forces in a civil war, the outcome is always the same. As explained by Rear Adm. John Kirby in a 2014 Department of Defense press conference, the U.S. had already left Iraq with a military capable of fighting ISIS:

Well, they [the Iraqis] didn't all run away. And yeah, we did spend a lot of money and effort training the Iraqi army. And when we left in 2011, we left them capable and competent to the threat that they faced. That opportunity they were given, the skills that they were provided, the leadership that they had were squandered by the [Nouri al-] Maliki government over the last three, three-and-a-half years.

From Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan, leaders like al-Maliki and local fighters have always had their own goals; U.S. foreign policy objectives are a distant second. It's impossible to reach "the support of the population" when the U.S. can't even rely on the support of local leaders and allies.

It's a strategic mistake to engage in yet another counterinsurgency war, where enemies like ISIS and other groups rely on asymmetric warfare and the chaos of a civil war to their advantage. We already sent Americans back to Iraq, so sending more Americans to Syria will lead eventually to further involvement in this volatile region of the world. As we've learned from phrases like "We still seek no wider war," American advisers to these countries can easily lead to wider wars. Ultimately, we should alter our strategy. American soldiers should return home, and like President Reagan did with Lebanon in 1983, the U.S. needs to withdraw from Syria before it becomes an even bigger quagmire.

Goodman is an author and a journalist.