DEC 10, 2015
The Obama administration’s decision to send the Joint Special Operations Command into battle against the Islamic State is a small step toward getting rid of the counterproductive prohibition on “boots on the ground” — really a prohibition on U.S. troops going into combat — that has hindered attempts to defeat the terrorist state. The Special Operations task force that apparently will be stationed in Irbil in northern Iraq will not, by itself, be a game-changer. But it will be a real help, especially in gathering intelligence about the Islamic State.
Until now, the administration has been content to bomb the group. The problem is that dead men tell no tales. The Joint Special Operations Command will be able to capture high-level Islamic State operatives and, by interrogating them and seizing hard drives and other electronic devices and equipment, learn more about how the group operates. That, in turn, will propel further raids and bombing runs that will degrade Islamic State networks.
But what will happen to the Islamic State prisoners after they have been interrogated? In years past, the United States ran detention facilities in both Iraq and Afghanistan, but it has long since given them up. Will the United States reopen such a facility in Iraq? It could and probably should, but it’s unlikely that Baghdad would sign off, and the Obama administration probably won’t be willing to go forward on its own. And even if the United States were to reopen an Iraqi prison, that would not be a permanent solution. At some point, U.S. forces are likely to leave, whereupon they will have to either turn loose their detainees or transfer them somewhere else.