Despite former President Barack Obama’s efforts to cut U.S. military commitments in the Middle East, events quickly drew his Administration back into the region. Civil war in Syria, Libya, Yemen, and, particularly, ISIS’s 2014 expansion into Iraq combined to keep Washington militarily involved the region.
However, the nature of this involvement has changed significantly. Rather than commit regular troops, the U.S. has increasingly relied on elite special operations forces (SOF) to accomplish its goals. In Syria alone, SOF deployments have grown steadily from roughly 300 in early 2016 to over 700 today, and reports suggest further increases as the Trump Administration ramps up its anti-ISIS strategy.
Special operations forces offer policymakers flexible, effective, and discreet ways to deal with the region’s complex conflicts, but many worry that overreliance on SOF could undermine readiness.