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Combating ISIS—a coalition of strange bedfellows?

This has been a remarkable week in the coming battle against ISIS. The sequence suggests that the battle will be reinforced shortly.
• James Foley was beheaded by ISIS, which caused an international outcry
• Secretary of State Kerry said that ISIS must be destroyed
• General Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters during a Pentagon briefing that while ISIS would eventually have to be defeated, the US should concentrate on building allies in the region. “They can be contained, but not in perpetuity. This is an organization that has an apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision which will eventually have to be defeated.”
• Secretary of Defense Hagel said: “ISIS is as sophisticated and well funded as any group that we have seen. They’re beyond just a terrorist group. They marry ideology, a sophistication of strategic and tactical military prowess, they are tremendously well funded. Oh, this is beyond anything that we’ve seen, so we must prepare for everything,”
• General John Allen, a retired marine general who commanded the Afghanistan war from 2011 to 2013, called on President Obama to order the destruction of ISIS. In an op-ed for the DefenseOne website, he urged the president to “move quickly to pressure its entire ‘nervous system’, break it up, and destroy its pieces”.
• A presidential national security advisor said the president “hasn’t … been presented with specific military options outside” of the current airstrikes in Iraq, but he indicated that going after the Islamic State in Syria is under consideration.
• One columnist has suggested cooperating with Syrian President Assad against ISIS. The US has reportedly already covertly assisted the Assad government by passing on intelligence about the exact location of jihadi leaders through the BND, the German intelligence service.
• Multiple sources say it is simply a matter of time before a US city is attacked—Chicago and Las Vegas have been mentioned.
It is unique that the Obama administration is talking in such bellicose terms. Will it actually do anything?
The Major problem is one of speed. How fast can ISIS’s momentum be slowed and/or stopped while coalition forces are engaged? The Islamist forces are fighting their way into western Syria from bases further east, bringing to the front the prospect of US military intervention to stop their advance. Further north, ISIS has captured crucial territory that brings it close to cutting rebel supply lines between Aleppo in Syria and the Turkish border. The caliphate declared by ISIS on 29 June already covers the eastern third of Syria in addition to a quarter of Iraq.
The caliphate is actively opposed by Iraqi, Kurdish and Iranian forces in Iraq, with some air support from the US. Saudi Arabia and Jordan and most likely Turkey have reinforced their borders. And of course Syria is fighting for its life.
The strategy is simple, but complex politically at the same time. What is needed is a coalition that attacks ISIS along multiple axis thus denying ISIS both bases to operate from and operational flexibility. With Turkish forces attacking generally south, Jordanian and Saudi forces attacking north and Iraqi and Iranian forces attacking from east to west and Syria blocking ISIS from escaping and attacking from west to east. The US would provide air and logistical support to everyone.
Building such a coalition of strange bedfellows would require some major agreements by all of the participants. The major agreement would be that the territorial integrity of Syria and Iraq would be maintained following hostilities. Occupying forces would withdraw, Old grudges would not be part of the bargain—the Kurds and the Turks for example. Assad would have to agree to some major reforms in government and governing following the return to stability. Each participating country would be given areas of operations so as to preclude fratricide and would operate only in that area. The US would provide Special Forces and air liaison teams to each country to coordinate efforts and air support.
Faced with such overwhelming military power ISIS could try to revert to more terrorist./ unconventional warfare to seek to change the dynamic to one of a war of attrition. However, given its past brutality it may be difficult for its members to disappear into society.
The approach is simple, it is in consonance with the background information available and the present momentum in Washington, but will this administration step up and lead? This war cannot be lead from the rear!

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