Syria: How Washington forces might get involved

TACOMA — By air and sea, Defense Department assets based in Washington state could play a role in whatever military action the Obama administration chooses if it decides to strike Syria.

But ground troops from Joint Base Lewis-McChord are unlikely to go to Syria after 10 years cycling in and out of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Here’s a look at how Washington forces might get involved if Congress approves President Obama’s request to use military force to punish Bashar al Assad’s regime for using chemical weapons against its own people.

Question: Which Puget Sound military unit is most likely to deploy for a strike on Syria?

Answer: The Everett-based USS Nimitz aircraft carrier strike group is already in the Red Sea. Capt. Jeff Ruth wrote to the carrier’s community on Facebook this week that “We do not yet know the extent of our continued involvement in (the Middle East), but I have every confidence that no matter what we are called to do we will be successful.”

Q: Will soldiers at Joint Base Lewis-McChord deploy to Syria?

A: That is extremely unlikely. The Senate resolution that would approve the use of force in Syria specifically bars the involvement of ground forces.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., drove home the reluctance to deploy ground troops in a statement Wednesday: “Throughout the past decade, our military and their families have done everything we have asked of them and more, and putting `boots on the ground’ in Syria is something I join with the vast majority of Americans in opposing.”

Even if circumstances change and the administration decides it wants to deploy soldiers and Marines, Lewis-McChord’s troops have other priorities under current Pentagon plans.

The first objective centers on deploying fairly small units to Afghanistan until that war ends. The second has thousands of soldiers turning their attention to military partnerships along the Pacific Rim, such as recent exercises in Australia and South Korea. The I Corps, Lewis-McChord’s main Army headquarters, is reporting to the Defense Department’s Pacific Command.

In addition, Lewis-McChord’s three Stryker brigades are still in recovery and training periods that follow their recent deployments to Afghanistan.

Q: What about the Special Operations Forces at Lewis-McChord?

A: Their movements are secret, but publicly available information suggests their priorities are the same as the conventional Army forces at the base south of Tacoma. Lewis-McChord’s 1st Special Forces Group has Green Berets deployed throughout Asia. The 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment deployed to Afghanistan in May for its 16th combat mission to that country or Iraq.

Q: Could Air Force crews at Lewis-McChord support U.S. assets around Syria?

A: Yes. The 62nd Airlift Wing has a global mission supporting U.S. forces overseas. It continuously deploys airmen to the Middle East, where they fly C-17 Globemaster III cargo jets in and out of combat theaters.

Sometimes, they’re tasked with special assignments in the region, such as early this year when they supported a French-led mission against an al-Qaida-linked terrorist group operating out of Mali in North Africa.

Q: What about members of the Washington National Guard or Reserves?

A: They could contribute in a limited way. A team from the Washington Guard is currently on assignment in neighboring Jordan, where the senior enlisted soldiers and officers are serving as military liaisons to Middle Eastern nations.

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