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ISIS Advances in Syria & Iraq Upends US Strategy

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By John Ubaldi
Contributor, In Homeland Security

The fall of the Iraqi city of Ramadi and the Syrian city of Palmyra has placed into question the U.S. strategy for dealing with ISIS.

Back in February, President Barack Obama addressed the nation seeking a new war authorization from Congress to ultimately “Degrade and Destroy” the Islamic State, unfortunately the situation on the ground calls into question just what is the U.S. strategy for dealing with ISIS?

This question being debated throughout Washington is that no one really knows what the current strategy for defeating ISIS really is? Last September, President Obama ordered the U.S. military to begin to “Degrade and Destroy” ISIS in northern Iraq, and inside its sanctuary in Syria.

The questions we need to be asking are ‘how effective is the military air campaign, and what are its objectives’?

The administration has not articulated a comprehensive political strategy for dealing with Syria and its dictator, Bashar Hafez al-Assad. Since President Obama stated back in 2011 that Assad must go, and that his days are numbered, U.S. policy toward the regime has often been unclear and chaotic at best.

At the risk of repeating myself, what is the political strategy for Syria?

The other aspect of U.S. policy is how to make the Iraqi government in Baghdad more inclusive of all ethnic groups, including the Sunni and Kurdish minorities.

Retired U.S. Central Command commander, General James Mattis, wrote in an article titled, “The Enemy Is Not Waiting,” that in 2010 Iraq was in a post-combat, pre-reconciliation phase, with then-AQI [Al-Qae-da in Iraq], unable to sustain their intended level of violence that they hoped would spawn a Sunni-Shia civil war. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, released from American restraint, acted on his worst instincts, creating enormous distrust in Iraq’s Kurdish population and deeply embittering Sunnis in west-ern Iraq’s Al-Anbar, who lost any confidence in a Baghdad government that they saw as adversarial. The reformed, but still nascent Iraqi army, was purged by Maliki of its effective leadership as he jury-rigged the command structure, undercutting what had been the growing effectiveness of that force.

This purging of the Iraqi army of its competent commanders, and the corruption of the newly installed military leaders loyal to the government in Baghdad, led to the route of the army by ISIS in Mosul and recently in Ramadi.

Consider these questions – What leverage is the U.S. utilizing in its dealing with Iraqi government led by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi? What policies has al-Abadi instituted to make the government more inclusive of all ethnic groups, considering the prime minister belongs to the Dawa Party, the same party Nouri al-Maliki belonged to, and with its strong loyalty and influence from Iran.

Who is leading this engagement for the Obama administration, and how will the U.S. continue to engage the Iraqi government taking into consideration its strong ties to Tehran?

The other aspect in which some have been calling for, to include Senator John McCain, is that there has to be a ground component in defeating ISIS. The unfortunate part is that no one has really articulated what this consists of.

Senator McCain advocates attaching U.S. forces to Iraqi units, to be able to call in American air power with more effectiveness then is currently being done.

Many have called for the Iraqi’s to step up and engage ISIS instead of sending in U.S. military forces, but the Sunni tribes in the Anbar Province lack the weapons needed to take the fight to ISIS, and this also is the main complaint of the Kurdish “Peshmerga” forces in the north.

Foreign Policy magazine reported in the mid-2000s that Sunni tribes received significant military support from the United States as part of the “Anbar Awakening,” in which American troops and Sunni tribes united to drive al-Qaida in Iraq out of the western province. Ramadi looms large in the U.S. memory of that effort: U.S. forces and their local allies waged a fierce battle for control of the city that cost more than 100 American lives, but eventually succeeded in reducing attacks, in what was one of the most violent places in the country, to almost zero.

Presently, the U.S. arms Iraqi armies via the Baghdad government, and the Shia dominated government fails to deliver the needed weapons to the Sunni tribes, as well as the Peshmerga.

The real concern of U.S. policy in dealing with ISIS should be that the U.S. needs to be better engaged, but it seems this administration is more focused on the nuclear negotiation with Iran instead of what is actually going on throughout the region.

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