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How Effective is the Air Campaign against ISIS?

By John Ubaldi
Special Contributor for In Homeland Security

The media coverage of November’s midterm election and the Ebola crisis, have effectively drowned out any and all other issues. Perhaps more importantly, it has diluted virtually all discussion regarding the U.S. airstrikes against ISIS.

The questions we need to ask are how effective is the air campaign against ISIS, and are airstrikes accomplishing the mission to degrade and destroy ISIS?

Anthony Cordesman, military analyst at the Center for Strategic & International studies, reported that it has been clear from the start that any mission attempting to degrade and destroy the Islamic State must address the broader issues regarding what will happen in Syria to both rebel forces and the Assad regime; what level of future national unity and military capability can be created in Iraq; what level of force will be used to protect minorities and for humanitarian purposes, and how the campaign will relate to the broader ideological, political, and religious struggle to end violent Islamist extremism.

Cordesman addresses key components which the U.S. needs to address if it wants to not only degrade ISIS, but eventually destroy the Islamic State.

Currently Kurdish fighters, separate from around 50 armed men from the Free Syrian Army, have entered Syria to help in the defense of the besieged town of Kobani. The Kurdish fighters have brought with them the much needed heavy weapons to place them on equal footing with Islamic militants.

National security strategists need to ask how the U.S. will leverage support from Kurdish fighters in Syria, the Free Syrian Army in its fight against ISIS, plus battling the Assad regime all at the same time.

Meysa Adbo, a commander of the Kobani resistance, wrote in the New York Times, “Western governments should increase their pressure on Turkey to open a corridor for Syrian Kurdish forces and their heavy weapons to reach the defenders of Kobani through the border. We believe that such a corridor, and not only the limited transport of other fighters that Turkey has proposed, should be opened under the supervision of the United Nations.”

The problem…U.S. and Turkey view the crisis in Syria from different parameters. Turkey has stated all along that air strikes alone would not defeat ISIS, and as a NATO member has been asked to send troops into Syria, while no other NATO nation is asked to do the same.

Turkey has been pressured to send weapons to the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (or PYD) in Kobani, and allow Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) fighters into Syria.

Turkey views this strategy as a problem since PYD have really never joined the fight against Assad, and the PKK is affiliated with PYD.

“Now Kobani needs Turkey,” says Ilhan Tanir, Washington correspondent for the Turkish daily Vatan, “but Turkey is implying, ‘You’ve been gambling for three years and already called for autonomous regions without consulting us, so this is part of the gamble. Now you are on your own.'”

The other aspect which is the central tenet in U.S. strategy is for the Iraqi government to become more inclusive of all groups, and bring the Sunni minority back into supporting the military and political apparatus of the central government.

Some progress has been made, but clearly a lot more needs to be done, as the Sunni tribes are not enamored with ISIS. Instead they view them as the only protection against the Shiite led government in Baghdad.

Additionally, a discussion beyond air strikes should ask what strategy does the U.S. have for the region? As far too often, tactics are driving strategy and not strategy driving tactics.

Air strikes alone will not destroy ISIS or eliminate the breeding ground from which ISIS arose. Articulating a comprehensive strategy is vital, with all elements of U.S. national and military power on the same page. Otherwise we will simply continue to react to changing events.

NOTE: This article originally appeared on The Ubaldi Reports.

About the Author: John Ubaldi is President of Ubaldi Reports which provides credible, political content, addressing domestic and global issues written by military veterans with expertise on domestic and international issues. He has a Master’s in National Security Studies from American Military University with a concentration in Middle Eastern Studies and a Bachelor’s in Government from California State University, Sacramento.  

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