The Issue of Boots on the Ground

Asked on Monday if airpower would be more successful against ISIS in Iraq and Syria if there were US ground forces in place calling in airstrikes, Gen. Hawk Carlisle, who leads Air Combat Command, urged extreme caution. At an Air Force breakfast sponsored by AFA, Carlisle said, “What we’ve discovered, even when we do have confident, capable folks on the ground, it’s hard to tell who’s who” in the bitter fight involving more than half a dozen different factions, depending on the area within the region. “Half the time, we haven’t got it exactly right who’s fighting who,” he noted. Deploying ground troops—even just joint terminal air controllers—means they require protection and support. “Then the question is, ‘What’s next?’” he explained. Carlisle said, in his opinion, “You start putting American soldiers back on that ground, you own it. And are we ready for that? … I think we need to think long and hard about that as a nation.” Those who “make those comments” urging US ground forces be sent into Iraq and Syria “need to understand what it looks like on the ground today. And it is a complex, challenging environment, and putting Americans back in the middle of that is a big discussion,” he said.