Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Clawing Back Ground

The campaigns against ISIL continue to gnaw away at ISIL territory in Iraq and Syria.

In Syria:

U.S.-backed forces have seized full control of the northern Syrian city of Manbij near the Turkish border after the last remaining Islamic State fighters, who had been using civilians as human shields, left, a spokesman for the group said Friday.

Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) were now sweeping the city after the departure of a last remaining group of militants who had been holed up in the city.

This helps to cut off ISIL from the Turkish border where supplies and forces can slip in to bolster ISIL capabilities.

In Iraq, the Kurds moved on Mosul:

Iraqi Kurdish forces have retaken five villages east of Islamic State-held Mosul in an operation launched early Sunday morning, according to an official statement.

The operation aims to "clear several more villages" and is "one of many shaping operations" that will increase pressure on Mosul, the Kurdish region Security Council, an umbrella group of the multiple security forces in Iraq's Kurdish region, said in a statement.

I don't mind the slow pace in Syria. We need to build up non-Kurdish and non Islamist Sunni Arab resistance even as we work to defeat ISIL. If we defeat ISIL before we build up that resistance, Assad will exploit the defeat of ISIL to defeat all the rebels and win the civil war.

Not so long ago the Syrians with their Russian and Iranian backers approached Raqqa. They've done nothing but might be prepared to sprint to the city if ISIL's defenses there crack under pressure from American-backed Syrian forces.

In Iraq, the slowness frustrates me because time is our enemy. Until we defeat ISIL in Iraq the enemy might do something to derail our long-telegraphed killing blow being prepared with such loving care over the last two years.

We have to remember that while the Kurds are some of the most effective fighters we have allied with, they will not fight and die for Arabs outside of their local areas. The Kurds in Syria will definitely deal with Assad if he makes enough concessions to their autonomy.

So yeah, we are making progress helping the Kurds. But there are limits to how far they are willing to be led from behind in either Iraq or Syria. And getting them to go beyond those limits will come at a price in autonomy that others in the region will resent.

Still, it is better to be winning slowly than to be losing slowly.