According to the defense secretary, the primary objective of the mission, estimated to involve about 1,800 US troops from the 101st Airborne Division, will be to force Daesh out of their two power centers in Mosul, Iraq, and Raqqah, Syria.
In a subsequent interview for CNBC at Davos, also on Friday, Carter emphasized the urgency of the operation. "We need to destroy them in those two places, and I'd like to get on with that as soon as possible," he clarified.
The deployment, which has already been discussed with US Central Command and the commanders of the 101st Airborne Division, now awaits Congressional authorization.
For his part, Syrian Ambassador to Russia Riad Haddad has already indicated that Damascus will object to the Pentagon's plans in the strongest possible form. "Any interference in Syria's affairs, without the consent of the Syrian government, is looked upon as aggression against the Syrian people," Haddad said, cited by Russian media.
Speaking to the newspaper, Mikhail Alexandrov, an expert at the Center for Military-Political Studies at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, suggested that "indeed, the US truly is concerned that Syrian troops, with the support of Russian air power, have begun winning."
"Washington urgently needs to do something; otherwise, they might end up being late when it comes to the carving up of the Syrian 'pie'," when the war ends, the analyst grimly noted. "The situation is reminiscent of that in 1944, when the Western allies landed in Normandy in order to capture Western Europe, preventing the Soviet Union from taking all of Europe."
"Now, the US has a similar challenge: to prevent Russia from becoming the dominant power in Syria. If Syrian forces, supported by Russian air power, reach the Iraqi border, Baghdad is likely to begin operating with an eye to Moscow, Damascus and Tehran. As a result, the entire region will come under the control of the control of the US's geopolitical competitors – Russia and Iran. Clearly, the Americans would not be satisfied with such a situation."
For its part, Alexandrov suggests, "Russia, obviously, is not going to bomb the Americans. And they will gradually advance, occupying parts of Syria not controlled by Assad's forces."
"For now, all parties in the Syrian conflict pay lip service to the idea of the country's territorial integrity. But if one looks at the situation objectively, Syria has been split into three communities: Shiite-Alawite, Sunni and Kurdish. And 'gluing' these communities back together into one country will be possible only by force."
"This," the analyst noted, "is how Bosnia and Herzegovina were 'glued' back together in their own time. But Bosnia and Herzegovina are in Europe; moreover, they were surrounded on all sides by NATO forces. Together, this helped to impose a certain reconciliatory attitude on the warring parties. In Syria, obviously, such a scenario will be impossible – if only because Daesh is a completely uncontrollable structure which will not defer to anyone."
As far as Russia is concerned, the expert suggested that for its part, Moscow "has no reason to fight [a ground war] in the desert. Our strategic objectives will be achieved if we control the nominal Shiite-Alawite-Christian 'axis' stretching from Damascus to Aleppo. This region is already factually under the Syrian government's control. And if it is kept, we will keep all the benefits of our participation in the Syrian war."
"In this case, Russian military bases will be deployed in Syria, posing a threat to NATO's southern flank – and particularly to Turkey, which has always been hostile to Russia. More importantly, we will have fulfilled our historic mission – of defending the Syrian Christians and Alawites against genocide."
"Furthermore, such an operation will pull the US into a serious showdown with the terrorists, and as a result the Americans will come to bear the brunt of the fight against Daesh, something we can only welcome."
Russia's main goal, Alexandrov emphasized, is "not to allow the Americans from knocking Assad's forces back to the Mediterranean." Russia must assist the Syrian government in defeating the terrorists in Aleppo, and "create a perimeter defense of the Alawite-Shiite-Christian area – in short, to make sure that American troops do not stick their nose where it doesn't belong."
"Afterwards, Syria can be saved as a state as a confederation – and let their communities decide among themselves on the conditions for living together. The process might drag on for decades, as with the situation involving the unification of East and West Germany."
The US operation in Syria, which the expert suggests, could get off the ground in as little as three months, could be similar to the ongoing Russian operation to assist Syrian government and Kurdish forces. "To begin, they will block off these cities [Mosul and Raqqah], with local forces then beginning an assault, supported, of course, by the US Air Force. These are the same tactics that Russia is using in Syria. The only difference is that the Americans will also bring artillery to bear [against the terrorists]."
"Carter did not define exactly what constitutes a ground operation," Fenenko noted. "After all, the participation of one battalion can be considered participating in such an operation. But carrying out a large-scale combined arms campaign would immediately raise a series of problems."
"First, Washington would have to negotiate with its allies on the deployment of US forces, and this is not something which happens overnight. The deployment itself will require three to four months. And the spring is the beginning of the sandstorm season in Iraq, so the weather will not be very conducive to a campaign. Therefore, I do not rule out that the US will limit itself to the participation of small American units."
In his own analysis, published in Russian business magazine Expert, geopolitics analyst Gevorg Mirzayan suggested that fear of the influence of its geopolitical opponents, more than any other factor, explains Washington's anxiousness and its penchant for a ground campaign.
"If we were talking only about the destruction of the Daesh terrorists, the Americans could very well make do with bombing, liquidating Daesh's lines of communications and the steady destruction of the militants' manpower. This would help the Kurds, the Iraqis, the Syrians, Hezbollah and the Iranians to destroy Daesh's military infrastructure on the ground and to free the cities held by the terrorists, thus restoring the territorial integrity of Iraq and Syria."
"However," Mirzayan explains, "such a scenario is unacceptable for Washington. Firstly, such a minor role in a matter as serious as the destruction of the world's most dangerous terrorist organization would raise questions about whether the United States can continue to maintain its role of the leader of the world community, and whether other nations should continue to pay their loyalties to Washington. Or perhaps they will begin paying more attention to the powers which have exerted a far greater effort against Daesh – Russia and Iran?"
"If, in Saudi Arabia and Israel, the number of proponents of the view that the US had turned a blind eye to Iran's creeping capture of the Middle East reaches a critical mass, it cannot be excluded that these countries will decide to take unilateral action against Iran, which could threaten the US-Iranian nuclear compromise."
Ultimately, with direct US operations in Syria a major risk (given the use of Russian air power there), Mirzayan suggests that what the US will try to do is to stand back and use local forces to do the job.
"In Iraq, such forces can be found among local Sunni leaders, with whom the Americans have had close ties since the period of occupation…But who will fight for the Americans in Syria? The secular militants [in northwestern and southwestern Syria], far from Raqqah? Or the Syrian Kurds, who a) have reached agreements with the Iranians, the Syrians and the Russians, and b) are not ready to shake hands with another member of the American coalition – Turkey, which until recently had been engaged in the bombing of the Kurds?"