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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Islamic State: Have We Lost Our Opportunity?

Links: A. Jihadists Building Training Camps In Iraq & Syria
           B. IS Kills Iranian Revolutionary Guard General In Iraq
           C. Leader Of Shia Militia Killed By IS In Iraq

We all have our routines.  In the morning, before I take a shower or have anything to eat, I hop online and read email and a bit of news.  I usually scan the Drudgereport, which is very effective at relaying certain "trends" in the U.S. media.  For instance, lately I can't find any news about our involvement in Syria and Iraq.  Thank goodness for the Long War Journal, which not only has the pulse of every hot spot, but keeps relevant stories accessible chronologically.  As for the mainstream media, the issue has dropped off the face of the earth.  When President Obama announced a U.S.-led air campaign against Islamic State (IS) targets in Iraq and Syria, the media was giddy.  Even I expected daily stories of bombing sorties and missions to cripple the IS supply network.  Respected military strategists, and probably the Pentagon itself, were quietly not optimistic that an air campaign not operating in concert with ground forces would ultimately fail.  The knee-jerk reaction on behalf of the administration was loud enough to shatter glass, and on September 10, President Obama announced a continuation of the air campaign alongside an effort to train, equip, and stand-up an ethnic Syrian army, which would ideally become the missing "ground forces".  Since that announcement on September 10, the details released by the administration on this force have been scant, confusing and sometimes contradictory. We were told by the Pentagon that this ethnic Syrian force would be led by former Syrian Army officers, whose goals were a secular, free political society in Syria.  Later we were told that it would take three, possibly four months to stand-up this army, which eventually adopted the moniker "Free Syrian Army".  The strangest announcement I recall claimed that the Free Syrian Army would not be allowed to engage in offensive operations, that it would be limited to defensive actions only.  About the same time, a news report from Agency France Press announced that an effort by forces opposed to the IS, including the Free Syrian Army, had been soundly defeated after attempting an ambush.  An ambush stretches the limits of defensive action about as far as it can be stretched, I think.

For those of you familiar with the term, the U.S. involvement in Syria and Iraq has become a complete Goat Rope.  In other words, its a mess.  Two months ago I asked a set of questions that weren't answered.  I repeated those questions last month, and it appears I will be going for month number three.  Reports from both Iraq and Syria appear to indicate that the IS in on the offensive.  In Iraq, the IS has chosen to solidify its hold on Fallujah (and Ramadi?) and continues to swallow up town after town in the greater Baghdad area.  I half-expected an IS attack on Baghdad by now, but the bad guys are obviously thinking a bit more strategically that I am.  As the Iranians become increasingly involved, the IS has stepped up its presence in Diyala Province, which borders Iran.  No doubt the Ayatollahs and the Muftis and the Grand Poobahs in Qom are freaking out that these Sunni Apostates are just a cow patty toss away from Iran, and will demand that Iranian resources be coalesced to meet the threat.  This will leave the Shia militias leaderless (a few are already leaderless, as detailed in links 2 and 3), not to mention a militia or two may scurry over to Diyala as well.  The Iraqi Army has been relying on the Shia militias, which have been instrumental in the defense of the Baiji Refinery and the Iraqi Army's efforts to defend greater Baghdad.  Without Iranian assistance, the Iraqi Army doesn't stand a chance against the IS.

I had predicted that Syrian de-facto President Bashir al-Assad would take full advantage of the allied bombing campaign against the IS, to repair and re-equip the regular Syrian Army.  I opined about the reconstitution of armor (heavy tanks) units and even the possibility of a few new helicopter gunships, courtesy of Assad's best buddy, Vlad Putin.  Instead, I continue to read story after story of IS units kicking the shit out of regime forces in the far east provinces and also near Aleppo and even Damascus.  I assumed that the dream of having a Russian naval base in the Mediterranean would inspire Putin to throw in all his chips behind Assad.  Ideally, the Russians should have taken the break provided by the commencement of the allied air campaign (and the headline-grabbing Kobane struggle) to resupply and equip Assad's regular army, which would then be in a position to defeat a weakened IS and keep control of Syria.  I know this will come as a surprise to many in the west, but the urban populations of Syria (Christian, Muslim, and whatever else) actually support Assad.  But once Turkish President Erdogan decided that Assad wasn't his "cup of tea", many regional leaders jumped on Erdogan's bandwagon.  This explains why the local media refuses to broadcast the fact that urban Syrians, including the majority of Christians, support Assad and believe he has taken positive steps to protect them throughout his time in office.

Back to my simple list of questions:

  • What is the status of the Free Syrian Army?  
  • Has the FSA been stood up?  
  • Does the FSA have the option to undertake offensive operations or is it intended exclusively for defense?  
  • What is the status of the air campaign?  
  • What percentage of missions has been flown by our allies, compared to the number of missions flown by the U.S. Air Force?  
  • If the IS occupies Baghdad, will this trigger greater military involvement on behalf of the United States?  
  • If the IS were defeated in Syria, and the FSA and regular Syrian began a struggle for control of the country, would the U.S. military get involved? 

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