EXPANDING THE AIR WAR AGAINST ISIS: A COMMENT
"The United States and its Arab allies bombed militant groups in Syria for the first time on Tuesday, killing scores of Islamic State fighters, members of a separate al Qaeda-linked group and opening a new front amid shifting Middle East alliances. The attacks encountered no objection, and even signs of tacit approval, from President Bashar al-Assad's Syrian government, which said Washington had warned Damascus in advance. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates participated in or supported the strikes against Islamic State targets, U.S. Central Command said. The countries are hostile to Assad but now fear the fighters who emerged from the rebellion they backed in Syria's 3-year-old civil war. U.S. President Barack Obama said in a televised statement that the breadth of the coalition, including the five Arab states, showed the United States was not alone in its second campaign of air strikes. Since Aug. 8, U.S. air strikes have hit militant targets in Iraq, where Washington supports the government, but had held back from a military engagement in Syria, where it is at odds with Assad. The White House said some of the strikes in Syria had targeted an al Qaeda affiliate known as the Khorasan group, which it said had been plotting an imminent attack either in the United States or in Europe".Phil Stewart and Tom Perry, "U.S. and Arab allies launch first strikes on militants in Syria". Reuters. 23 September 2014, in www.reuters.com.
"American airpower will be the centerpiece of U.S. direct action against the so-called Islamic State. That much, at least, the U.S. government made clear Monday night with the launch of U.S. airstrikes on Syria. American bombers, sea-launched Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles, F-15s, F-16s, F/A-18s, unmanned aircraft, and Arab allies from bases throughout the Persian Gulf region attacked an initial set of roughly 20 primarily fixed targets—logistical hubs, headquarters, training camps, and other ISIS infrastructure—in Raqqa and other areas in Syria. Meanwhile, the United States has flown hundreds of sorties against ISIS forces in Iraq, but Iraqi security forces have yet to retake major cities. What effect will airstrikes have on ISIS? Will they “degrade” or “defeat” the group? To understand the implications we first must understand ISIS as an organization: How it fights, how it is organized, and ultimately how it might be vulnerable to a long-term bombing campaign. ISIS’s battlefield success and political resiliency depend on a sophisticated but partially decentralized structure that recommends a different form of targeting than in past U.S. decapitation efforts against al Qaeda and its affiliates. ISIS’s offensive success, especially in Iraq, is attributed to a mix of subversion, guerrilla warfare, and light infantry tactics yielding a surprisingly effective irregular warfare strategy. Its defensive strength derives from its robust local and international recruiting efforts and its success at retaining guerrilla resilience even as it undertakes a state-building project.... ISIS’s tactics and structure suggest that rather than hitting only massed ISIS forces in Iraq and its fixed infrastructure across both Iraq and Syria, an offensive campaign should target its battlefield leadership and the elements of the organization necessary for sustaining and coordinating its operations across the region". .Daniel Trombly & Yasir Abbas, "Who the U.S. Should Really Hit in ISIS". The Daily Beast. 23 September 2014, in www.dailybeast.com. The expansion of the air war against the radical Islamist group ISIS to Syria is something that I and any enemy of Muslim extremism can only applaud. By definition, this horrid group cannot be easily defeated, much less destroyed with merely a couple of air and missile strikes. What is needed and required is the journalists from the Daily Beast highlight above is a highly co-ordinated and pinpointed air campaign which will take not weeks but months at the very least. And even if the air campaign is extremely accurate and focused, the effort itself will require both endurance and allies on the ground. Unfortunately, in the case of Syria, the only allies on the ground who are at all militarily able to challenge ISIS effectively is the existing regime of Assad Fils. To pretend that those elements of the opposition which are western-aligned would be capable of defeating ISIS is a chimera, pur et simple. Unfortunately, the fact of the matter is that ISIS will only be substantially defeated and destroyed in both Syria and Iraq with a combination of American air power and ground forces. The Assad regime is the only available force who could possibly fulfill such a role. This fact may perhaps not be agreeable but it is assuredly a fact. As the man who I regard as the premier military commentator in the United States, Anthony Cordesman recently noted:
There is no good option for Syria, only a least bad one, and efforts to try to build a moderate political and military opposition will probably take years and only succeed if the Assad government and other opposition factions largely self-destruct 1.1. Anthony Cordesman, "The Islamic State: The Case for Expanding the Air War". The Center for Strategic and International Studies. 23 September 2014, in www.csis.org. For an opposing argument to my own as per the potential to build a credible military force among the remnants of the pro-Western, Syria Opposition, see: Kenneth Pollack, "An Army to Defeat Assad: How to Turn Syria's Opposition Into a Real Fighting Force". Foreign Affairs. (September/October 2014), in www.foreignaffairs.com.