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Expanded U.S. Presence In Syria May Be Politically Motivated, Mann Says


Now to Syria, where there's been increased fighting over the past few days. President Obama has announced he's sending 250 more troops there to help battle ISIS. Most of them are Special Forces. We called Scott Mann, a retired lieutenant colonel who spent 18 years in the Army Special Operations, to ask him if the tactic will work.

Thanks so much for joining us.

SCOTT MANN: Hi, Lourdes. Thanks for having me on.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: First of all, can you explain to us what these men will be doing there on the ground?

MANN: One of the things that's helpful to understand I think is that there are all types of special operations forces. And many of us see movies like, "Navy Seals," you know, where these guys are taking down targets.


MANN: Actually, the kind of work that a lot of these guys do is working by, with and through indigenous people to stand up on their own. In other words, you know, you think of the old "Lawrence Of Arabia" kind of approach, where a small group of men or warriors immerse themselves in the local culture. They speak the language, they work in the environment, and they stay for a very long time to help local folks push back from the bottom up.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: When you say long time, what does that mean?

MANN: Oh, it can be a very long time. For example, in Afghanistan, they were in there for nine, 12 months at a time, living in an Afghan village. So it's a very, very long time compared to the short duration strikes that you see where we take down a target in a matter of hours.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, there's been some criticism. We've gone from 50 Special Forces to now 300. And some people are saying this will only have a marginal effect. You need 10 to 15,000 to actually make a difference.

MANN: I tend to disagree with that assessment. Putting 100, 150,000 boots on the ground, as they call it, in an environment like Iraq or Afghanistan...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Or Syria in this case.

MANN: Or Syria in this case, yeah, what you end up doing really is the liberator becomes the occupier very quickly. We play into the enemy's narrative, or ISIS narrative that Islam is under attack by the West. And we really become the target of not only an insurgent force but a narrative that is not helpful.

You remember shortly after 9/11, when America went into Afghanistan in the very early days. And you saw footage of bearded warriors on horseback with members of the Northern Alliance, with members of Pashtun tribes. And in less than 90 days, they pushed the Taliban out of the country. Now, there were less than a hundred Special Forces guys doing that. That's the only thing I have seen, Lourdes, work in this 15-year war. All of the drone strikes, the heavy troop formations, actually, I think puts us more at risk.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You were in Afghanistan. You led a strategic program among the Green Berets to train and work alongside local forces. Afghanistan has not been seen as a very successful example of this kind of strategy.

MANN: Well, first of all, just to be clear, shortly after 9/11, Lourdes, we were so emotional after that attack, that we really focused on a campaign of retribution, in terms of just hunting targets. We didn't start this program until late in the war, and when we did start it from 2010 to 2013, very effective.

But when we started to withdraw, we pulled our Green Berets out of the villages way too early. So in the three-year window we did it, very effective - Not only will it work in a place like Syria. It'll even work here in the United States by empowering local civilians to push unwanted agitators out from the bottom up. It's the only way I've seen, again, to render these guys irrelevant.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Scott Mann is the author of the book, "Game Changers: Going Local To Defeat Violent Extremists." Thank you so much for being with us.

MANN: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.