Sunday, October 26, 2014

Will Our Enemies Wait Their Turns?

While I think the general thrust of our plan for action against ISIL in Iraq and Syria is correct, allowing the once separate Iraq and Syria problems to merge into one problem complicates our fight. (link that post) We need time for our plan to work. Will that plan survive contact with the enemy?

I'm not nearly as pessimistic as this analyst, but our plan will take years to implement in a complicated environment.

Again there is word that Iraqi forces aren't yet ready to go on offense:

Iraqi forces are months away from being able to start waging any kind of sustained ground offensive against the Islamic State and any similar effort in Syria will take longer, officials at the U.S. military's Central Command said on Thursday.

In Iraq, the timing will depend on a host of factors, some out of the military's control - from Iraqi politics to the weather. Iraqi forces also must be trained, armed and ready before major advances, like one to retake the city of Mosul, which fell to the Islamic State in June."It's not imminent. But we don't see that that's a years-long effort to get them to a place to where they can be able to go on a sustained counter-offensive," a military official said, instead describing it as a "months-long" endeavor.

The officials, briefing a group of reporters, said the priority in Iraq was halting the Islamic State's advance but acknowledged Iraq's western Anbar province was contested, despite U.S.-led air strikes.

While we seem to have helped the Iraqis make some gains north of Baghdad and in the Kurdish region (link), the situation in Anbar continues to slowly erode where 5 Iraqi divisions have lost significant strength to combat and desertions while they've lost ground. So we haven't even really stabilized the Iraq front yet.

Syria is the secondary front mostly because we failed to help rebels earlier and so there are fewer acceptable and capable rebels we can help.

Yet we have to help the Kurds of Syria resist ISIL attacks since we need enthusiastic support from Iraq's Kurds who may balk at our timetable of Iraq first while Syrian Kurds are wiped out by ISIL.

So we help more at Kobane now, where Syrian Kurds are desperately holding off a major ISIL offensive--which also is a good target of opportunity to kill ISIL forces and keep them from reinforcing the Iraq front.

Yet actions against ISIL in Syria effectively assist Assad.

Worse, the failure to help non-Kurdish Syrians resisting ISIL and Assad threatens our plan to eventually focus on helping non-jihadi rebels in Syria:

On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that the United States has determined that newly trained rebel fighters will not be able to capture strategically important towns from the so-called Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, without the support of forward-deployed U.S. combat troops. So instead, those rebels will only be assigned to defend already controlled territory.

On Thursday, the Syrian National Coalition, which is recognized by the United States as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people, told Foreign Policy that the plan "just doesn't make sense strategically.

"The only way to defeat ISIS is to defeat ISIS. You cannot be reactive and wait for them to besiege liberated towns and villages," said Oubai Shahbandar, a senior advisor to the group.

How can we be sure that these rebels will still be willing to fight--or even alive--when our plan gets to the Syria stage?

We may not want to go on offense in Syria yet, but unless we want to effectively become chemical weapon-using Assad's ally a mere year after nearly going to sort-of-war against him over that issue, we need to help Syrian rebels now in order to compensate for the damage we are doing to Syria-based ISIL with our air campaign in support of the Iraq First strategy.

UPDATE: Helping those who help themselves:

US cargo planes have parachuted aid to a beleaguered Sunni tribe in western Iraq, the Pentagon said Tuesday, in a sign Iraqi government forces remain in a tenuous position against Islamic State jihadists in Anbar province.

American C-130 aircraft carried out an airdrop of food near Al-Asad air base early on Monday at the request of the Baghdad government, Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby told reporters.

This is good. Not all air power is kinetics stuff.

But if we really want these guys in the fight against ISIL, we need an active Anbar front as soon as possible.

And Syrian rebels could use some visible help, too, for that matter.