U.S. boots are already on the ground against the Islamic State
Here’s a national-security riddle: How can President Obama provide limited military support on the ground to help “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State without formally violating his pledge not to send U.S. combat troops? The answer may lie in the legal alchemy known as “Title 50.”
Title 50 of the U.S. Code regulates the activities of the Central Intelligence Agency. An often-cited passage is Section 413(b), which deals with presidential approval and reporting of “covert actions.” In essence, this statute gives the president authority, with a proper “finding,” to send U.S. Special Operations forces on paramilitary operations, under the command of the CIA. The best-known example was the 2011 raid on Abbottabad, Pakistan, that killed Osama bin Laden.
Talking with U.S. and foreign military experts over the past week, I’ve heard two consistent themes: First, the campaign against the Islamic State will require close-in U.S. training and assistance for ground forces, in addition to U.S. air power; and, second, the best way to provide this assistance may be under the command of the Ground Branch of the CIA’s Special Activities Division, which traditionally oversees such paramilitary operations.