Obama’s ISIL strategy reexamined: air strikes ineffective; weak coalition

One month 4 days after President Obama’s grand announcement of a U.S.-led coalition to combat ISIL/ISIS or Islamic State (IS) “terrorists” (Obama says they’re neither Islamic nor jihadist!), as predicted by analysts, including members of this Consortium (their comments below are colored green), the “counterterrorism” strategy is failing.

Air Strikes

“Every analyst recognizes that attacks from the air may degrade (to a certain extent) the enemy, but not destroy him.” –A. James Gregor

“Well, airstrikes usually don’t amount to much. In the classic reason: You fly in and drop bombs, your aircraft run low on fuel and leave, and the locals declare victory and display pieces of a plane they shot down there because they’re still alive and in charge. Unless some key thing of the enemy’s got specifically attacked and destroyed in the raid, it doesn’t accomplish much….  Unless we concentrate force from the air upon ISIS in order to get them to do something particular (unlikely, since we’d have to kill a lot of them and in a manner not rewarded in the afterlife to reduce their will to fight) somebody will have to go in there and make them stop. Probably our guys, too.” –Anonymous

“Air strikes are useful, indeed essential, but they are only the first step in attacking ISIL…. Air strikes can disrupt communications, slow down movement, destroy supplies and logistical support assets and blunt enemy attacks. They will make the enemy slower to react, weaker at the attack point and less flexible in operations. All of these are desirable, but they cannot retake lost ground or destroy the will of the enemy. Only ground troops can do that.” –rthurs

Islamic State advancesClick map to enlarge

From the Wall Street Journal, Oct. 12 ,2014:

Islamic State militants have gained territory in Iraq and Syria despite weeks of bombing by the U.S. and its allies, raising questions about the coalition’s strategy of trying to blunt the jihadists’ advance while local forces are being trained to meet the threat on the ground.

In Syria, fighters from Islamic State, also known as ISIS, have taken large sections of the city of Kobani in recent days, said Ismet Sheikh Hasan, the defense minister of the city’s Kurdish administration. “Most of the eastern and southern parts of the city have fallen under the ISIS control,” he said. “The situation is getting worse.

This comes despite a week of heavy airstrikes around the city to help local Syrian Kurdish fighters keep Islamic State forces from the city center.

In Iraq, militant forces operating in a swath of territory the size of California have extended their control of the roads and commercial routes in strategically vital Anbar Province, which connects the capital Baghdad to Jordan and Syria.

Anbar, which has critical infrastructure and whose eastern edge lies only about 25 miles from Baghdad’s center, is also in danger of falling wholly under Islamic State control despite weeks of U.S. strikes aimed at weakening the group, local officials say. […]

Neither of the allied forces the U.S. had been counting on for help in the near term—the Iraqi army in the south or Turkish forces in the north—have been of much help, officials say. Iraq’s army has often proven unable to stop Islamic State forces, and Turkey hasn’t engaged in the fight despite its professed desire to halt the jihadists.

Which brings us to . . . .

A Coalition of the Unwilling

“In effect, there is no ‘broad coalition’ anywhere ready to support the ‘new’ strategy….” –A. James Gregor

“Turkey has a formidable army and can be decisive in Syria, but it lacks the political will to do so. Arab countries have some good troops, but lack the logistical base to project power into Syria and Iraq. And most of them are Sunni-dominated and are reluctant to fight other Sunnis.” –rthurs

“It is evident why most of the Arab nations make only modest and hesitant contribution to the “coalition against the network of death.” They have no assurance that the United States will stay the course…. The coalition cobbled together by the President is composed of participants (apparently now including Britain and France) prepared to lend a few aircraft to the bombing missions intended to ‘degrade’ ISIL forces, but there is no rush to supply ground troops essential to the ultimate defeat of the ‘radicals.’ ” –A. James Gregor

Immediately after Obama’s ISIL speech, Arab countries allied with the United States issued a joint communiqué supporting the U.S. strategy and vowed to “do their share” to fight the IS.

That was all lip service.

A day after Obama’s ISIL speech, Mark Sappenfield reported for the Christian Science Monitor that the speech “has been met with only slightly more than a shrug” among Arab countries — not so much because they are ambivalent about IS, but because “intersecting allegiances and strategic aims mean some Arab countries feel they must tread cautiously.”

Turkey: As a neighbor of both Syria and Iraq, Turkey would seem to have the greatest interest in stemming the influence of the Islamic State. But doing so might endanger Turkish national unity by empowering the Kurds, who are angling for an independent state of their own.

Other Arab states: Similar concerns weigh against strong support for the US in Sunni Arab states such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Defeating the Islamic State could give Iran, the region’s leading Shiite power — more scope to exert its authority.

Syria: Ironically, the Arab government most eager to join a coalition against IS was that of Syria, which Obama had already ruled out as a partner for what he described as terrorizing its citizens. (See Pulitzer-award journalist says Obama admin made up intelligence for war on Syria.) When the country most eager to help you is the one you have sworn to overthrow, that is not a good sign.

Gopal Ratnam and John Hudson write in Foreign Policy, Oct. 13, 2014:

Obama administration insists that it has a large and growing coalition of nations arrayed to fight the Islamic State . . . [but] the alliance may be far less robust than Washington says.

The latest row concerns the key question of whether Turkey, which hosts a sprawling American air base, will let U.S. warcraft fly from it into Iraq and Syria to batter the militant group. U.S. officials said Sunday that Ankara had given the green light. Less than a day later, Turkish officials categorically denied that they’d agreed to allow their bases to be used against the terror group.

[…] Incirlik Air Base, located about 50 kilometers inland from the Mediterranean Sea in southern Turkey, is home to the U.S. Air Force’s 39th Air Base Wing and about 1,500 American military personnel and is key to protecting NATO’s southern flank.

[…] Washington may be consistently misreading its partners and overestimating just how committed they are to the fight. [,,,]Ankara wasn’t the only capital to experience a fit of stage fright after its potential involvement in the anti-ISIS coalition went public.

In September, when Foreign Policy reported details of a secret offer by the nation of Georgia to host a training camp for anti-ISIS fighters, the story prompted a strong public backlash in Tbilisi due to security concerns for the tiny Caucasian nation of 4.5 million. Within 24 hours, Georgian officials denied having made any such offer.

“I categorically rule out any military participation or training base in Georgia,” Georgian Foreign Minister Maia Panjikidze said.

Last month, Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar said his government opposed terrorism, but expressed annoyance that his country was included in the U.S. government’s official list of anti-ISIS partners without being informed.

[…] Administration officials have said that at least 60 countries are part of the anti-ISIS coalition, but the vast majority aren’t contributing militarily.

In other cases, the United States has boasted about allied commitments of ground troops to fight ISIS, but the offers never materialized.

“We have countries in this region, countries outside of this region, in addition to the United States, all of whom are prepared to engage in military assistance,” Secretary of State John Kerry told CBS last month. He insisted that the United States would not send ground forces but that other countries “have offered to do so.” However, none of the Arab coalition partners, the nations most likely to provide ground troops, have yet to make such commitments in public. (In September, the Times of London reported that Jordan offered to send its Western-trained special forces to combat ISIS in Syria, but the Arab monarchy has yet to confirm the offer.)

The United States has also struggled to explain its relationship with another key player, Iran. The majority-Shiite country has a vested interest in eradicating ISIS from the region but Washington insists it is not coordinating directly with Tehran, though some discussions on the topic have clearly taken place.

“We’re not in coordination or direct consultation with the Iranians about any aspects of the fight against ISIL,” White House National Security Advisor Susan Rice said on Meet the Press on Sunday, using another name for the militant group. When pressed, she noted that “we’ve had some informal consultations” with Iran about regional issues on the sidelines of the ongoing nuclear negotiations in Vienna, but did not elaborate. Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, by contrast, said Sunday that the two countries had exchanged messages regarding the fight against ISIS. Outside of Syria, hundreds of Iranian troops have crossed into Iraq to fight against ISIS forces.

[…] During his visit to Colombia on Oct. 10, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told reporters that the United States would like to get access to Incirlik as a base from which to launch strikes against Islamic militants, according to the Associated Press.

[…] Turkey wants the United States to get involved but differs on the goals…. Turkey wants the coalition to focus on removing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while President Barack Obama wants to keep the focus on the Islamic State and preventing the fall of Baghdad….

[…] The Obama administration’s criteria about what it takes to be considered a member of the anti-ISIS coalition requires little effort on the part of coalition members.

Kerry and Hagel have listed five lines of effort against the terror group: providing military support to the coalition; impeding the flow of foreign fighters; stopping the group’s financing; addressing the humanitarian crisis in the region; and exposing ISIS’s “true nature.”

Given the limited effort it takes to release a statement in opposition to the terror group’s ideology, which technically would merit inclusion in the coalition, it’s little wonder that the United States was able to boast a list of 60 nations. Still, such rosters do little to indicate the depth of commitment any one nation may be offering. Slovakia, for instance, said it won’t send soldiers to the effort, but that it would contribute $25,000 to the International Organization for Migration in northern Iraq — not exactly a game-changing move, but sufficient to merit inclusion on the list.

See also:

~StMA

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6 responses to “Obama’s ISIL strategy reexamined: air strikes ineffective; weak coalition

  1. Reblogged this on Fellowship of the Minds and commented:
    Obama is the opposite of King Midas. He is King Merde because everything he touches turns into crap.

    His much-vaunted “counterterrorism” strategy against the Islamic State jihadists — a strategy that led the butt-kisser David Brooks to compare Obama with Moses — is no exception.

    Like

  2. The strategy announced by the administration is hardly one that can lead to any kind of decisive victory over the ISIL terrorists in Iraq and Syria — for all the reasons cited in the blog. Beyond those evident reasons there are reasons less frequently considered but no less determinant:

    (1) Iran has clear incentives for wanting the defeat of the ISIL radicals — and it could provide ground forces to retake territory conquered by the jihadists. There are even reports that elements of the Iranian military have entered Iraq and are presently engaging ISIL forces on the ground. Washington, because of its long, bitter dispute with Iran, cannot effectively integrate those critical forces, tactically or strategically, into its plan.

    (2) Putin has indicated a willingness to provide ground forces in the war against the ISIL terrorists — but Washington cannot enlist those assets because it has become embroiled in the acrimonious dispute with Russia over Ukraine and Crimea. Again, ground forces are available, but Washington cannot make use of them.

    (3) Assad of Syria clearly wishes the defeat of ISIL, and has a trained army to make that intention realistic — but Washington has decreed that we cannot allow ourselves (however temporarily) to join forces with a political leader we have deemed too brutal.

    (4) Washington has made no public effort to engage Egypt in its coalition building effort. The administration deeply offended Cairo by supporting the Muslim Brotherhood during the heady days of the “Arab Spring.” As a consequence, Cairo — strongly anti-Islamist — has shown little inclination to join the American led coalition and supply troops to the struggle against ISIL.

    (5) Turkey is ill-disposed to join in a struggle against the jihadists because it is feared that the Kurds will benefit — and the Kurds desire a nation of their own — at the expense of Turkey. It should have been obvious that it was unlikely that Turkey would be prepared to provide ground forces or logistic support for the United States in its conflict with ISIL — at its own long-term cost.

    In effect, the administration has created the conditions for failure in its present armed conflict with radical jihadists. In order to work its declared strategy Washington needs troops on the ground — but Washington has alienated or refused to involve in its coalition those nations with the requisite ground forces. It is not clear who in the present administration put together the anti-ISIL strategy, but it displays many familiar features we have come to expect from this administration.

    Like

  3. Thank you StMA for this thorough and thought-provoking analysis of the king’s defective and ineffective “strategy” regarding ISIS. It’s as though he has framed all of his actions to fail, deliberately. What does this say to us?

    Like

  4. Pingback: Other People's Boots - EMET

  5. Pingback: Christians form militia of 4,000 to fight ISIS in Iraq | Fellowship of the Minds

  6. under imam obama ISIL having field days

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