Why the U.S. Can’t Defeat ISIS

SECDEF/CJCS press briefingIt will take more than military might to restore peace in Syria’s backyard.

By Ola Wam.

After a month of airstrikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), U.S. President Barack Obama announced a plan to “degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIS through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy”.
ISIS welcomed Obama’s plan by releasing a trailer-like video clip depicting themselves in armed combat with U.S. forces, entitling it ‘Flames of War’ and following that with the caption “fighting has just begun”. Although presumptuous, ISIS is not a trivial adversary; it has an effective management structure consisting of former military officers of Saddam Hussein’s who have a long experience of fighting U.S. troops.

The conflict is further complicated by the Iraqi-Syrian border. As ISIS is present in both Iraq and Syria, any effort in Iraq has to be matched by efforts in Syria, but Obama’s anti-ISIS coalition is deeply divided on how to deal with Syria. The U.S. has expanded its support of moderate Syrian rebels, but these are unlikely to be either willing or able to challenge ISIS with sufficient force.

American airstrikes combined with Kurdish and Iraqi ground forces have so far halted ISIS’s offensive, but further military progress now depends on the coalition partners’ ability to cooperate. Any victory strategy that neglects the demands of the Sunni community will be futile. ISIS represents not only a military force but a growing dissatisfaction with Iraq’s central government. Lasting stability in Iraq depends on agreement between Shias, Sunnis, and Kurds.

Not Another Ground War

Having been largely repelled from northern Syria this winter, it came as a shock when in June ISIS overran northern Iraq, capturing large swathes of land, including the country’s second largest city, Mosul. As Iraqi government forces melted away, ISIS seized vast stores of arms, ammunition, and military vehicles (including six Black Hawk helicopters), and plundered Mosul’s banks for $430 million, making them the world’s richest terrorist organization.

Not only did ISIS come dangerously close to Baghdad—threatening Iraq’s central government—they also came close to Erbil, at the heart of the country’s oil industry. ISIS now controls a number of oil fields in Syria and Iraq and has seized vital energy infrastructure, giving them a steady income providing bootleg oil sold on the black market in Turkey.

As ISIS advanced on key oil fields in June, oil prices jumped $5 per barrel. Iraq suddenly became a …

To read complete articles from the Autumn 2014 issue, you must subscribe to our eReader edition.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s