In short, I think our strategy should be "Win, Build, Win." I've outlined it in earlier posts, so might as well lay it out in a separate one.
That is, first we focus on a WIN in Iraq as the main effort by defeating ISIL and their local Sunni Arab allies by providing air support (using special forces and forward air controllers to guide them when possible) to local allies on the ground.
Local allies will be Kurdish forces in the northeast to drive southwest; Iraqi forces bolstered by US (and allied) embedded advisors (we will provide enough advisors for 9 brigade and 3 division headquarters) plus Iraqi counter-terrorism forces in the center to advance north and west; and possibly a Jordanian force to advance into Anbar from the west.
It is possible that we will have a contractor-based ground force that we hire that might provide part of that ground force in the center to advance north.
We will need to get another Awakening with sufficient Sunni Arabs to help tear out the jihadis who go underground as local spearheads backed by our air power push into ISIL-held ground.
Second, while we do this, we will BUILD the non-jihadi Syrian opposition. We plan to spend up to a year training 5,000 troops that we intend to use as a buffer forces along the Iraq-Syria border. Hopefully this complements our efforts north of Jordan and efforts out of Turkey to support non-jihadi rebels.
While we build up the Syrian opposition to become a viable alternative to the jihadis for those who want to fight Assad, we will strike targets in Syria to support the Iraq main effort in Iraq and to shape the battlefield for the last step.
Our targets for our initial strikes in Syria are consistent with this part of the strategy:
Coalition strikes targeted ISIL training camps, headquarters, command and control facilities, logistical nodes, armored vehicles and leadership.
U.S. military forces also executed unilateral precision strikes against the Khorasan Group, an A.Q.-affiliated terrorist organization located in northwest Syria.
The intelligence reports indicated that the Khorasan Group was in the final stages of plans to execute major attacks against Western targets and potentially the U.S. homeland.
The strikes at the Khorasan group aren't directly related to the main effort in Iraq, but the rest do support that effort, as did the succeeding strikes on ISIL oil production capacity (by hitting refinery facilities).
And the strikes at Khorasan do help us shape the Syria battlefield by weakening the jihadi alternative to the guys we'd rather see succeed in Syria. Maybe serving with more moderate forces who don't face our air attacks will seem safer. And if that is a symbol of our general support, that will help, too.
Third, when Iraq is secured we attempt to WIN in Syria. Hopefully, those Syrian rebels we trained who hold the border in the east have attracted new recruits and we can back them as they advance west and defeat ISIL in Syria.
The fourth step is to continue the win over ISIL by helping non-jihadi Syrian rebels in the east, in the south, and in the north to overthrow Assad. I'm not sure the Obama administration is on board with this final step.
So yeah, the whole thing will take time. It is possible that the third step won't be finished before 2016 is over--but I think step one should be achieved next year if we can strike decisive blows as we did in Afghanistan in 2001 and as the French did in Mali--and that the fourth step won't begin until the next administration.
But so far I have hope that President Obama will do well enough to make progress in Iraq. Although I'll always worry about his ability to stick with pursuing victory when the going gets rough.
UPDATE: Turkey sure does seem to edging toward using their army to establish a "humanitarian" buffer zone inside Syria:
As it faces increasing security threats from Islamic extremists in its south and southeast, the Turkish government has said it will expand parliamentary authorizations allowing the Army to conduct cross-border operations into neighboring Iraq and Syria.
Perhaps Turkey just didn't want to be led from behind only to find they were the only one in the fight.
UPDATE: And this news about our strikes in Syria is consistent, too:
U.S. airstrikes against Islamic State fighters in Syria, which began this week with forceful missile and bomber salvos, are expected to eventually settle into a lower-intensity tempo resembling the American-led campaign in Iraq, defense officials said.
That makes sensee in the context I've laid out. What doesn't make sense is the slow pace in Iraq. How about a little actual ground support for Iraqi troops fighting ISIL rather than letting them get overrun and slaughtered in their bases?