Sunday, October 05, 2014

Is Our War Against ISIL Counter-Productive?

Will our air war bolster ISIL?

The low sortie rate undeway doesn't bode well for the future (tip to Instapundit):

America’s air campaign against ISIS has been front-page news for weeks, but how much “there” is there? Not much, by historical standards. ...

So we’ve had more sound than fury. What is it accomplishing? Early results seem to show that, when boots on the ground are absent, air power is of limited utility against ISIS. In fact, ISIS has recently managed to push forward around Kobane in the face of an air attack; only Turkish tanks might turn the tide there now.

Meanwhile, one thing our airstrikes have been able to do, it seems, is unite our enemies against us. The strikes have built ISIS’s credit among its fellow jihadists, giving credence to their claim to be foremost in fighting the United States.

I can't rule this ISIL-bolstering result out. As I've often written on this blog, "it isn't that use of force is counter-productive, it's that the use of ineffective force is counter-productive."

Call it a more clunky version of "if you strike a king, kill him" or "never do an enemy a small harm."

But I don't assume the current low level of strikes is the entire plan. Perhaps I'm projecting and allowing my hopes to exceed the evidence, but I think my Win-Build-Win strategy to apply effective force will be carried out.

So no, our military effort won't bolster ISIL--assuming our effort against ISIL eventually becomes a war that uses effective force to destroy them.

UPDATE: Despite the hundreds of coalition air sorties directed against them, ISIL is still making advances in both Iraq and Syria. Why, you might ask, given that I've spoken of the need to use firepower (including air power) to atomize enemies to deny them the ability to mass against local allied defenders.

It is because our air campaign--while useful--has largely been a strategic bombing campaign against strategic assets that do not interfere with the ability of ISIL to mass forces at the point of contact.

Sure, our planes may interfere with large enemy convoys moving about, but dispersed enemy movements can converge prior to an attack and then smash into local allied defenders without worrying that our air force will intervene in the battle.

If we also provided ground support with forward air controllers embedded with local ground units capable of coordinating air strikes with defenders in battle, the enemy would know that they have limited time to succeed in an attack before they get hammered. That is what is missing from our aerial intervention.

I have hopes that our intervention will proceed from strategic attacks to that stage, as it did in Libya (and I'm speaking of the actual military air effort and not the result).

And in Afghanistan, most recently, the Taliban had learned to win fast or disperse before our firepower intervened. Now that we are exiting, they have been unlearning that habit.

But in Iraq and Syria for the most part our air effort has not been a ground support effort. And that is why ISIL keeps taking ground.

UPDATE: Strategypage discusses air power related to ISIL.