Thursday, September 25, 2014

A War of the Willing vs. the Determined

As the US enters the ongoing Sunni-Shia war, it does so with the full understanding that our forces will be fighting on both sides of that war. In their rush to declare that this is not a war on Islam, our leaders seem to fail to understand that it is very much a religious war. This is why it will probably be a long war, and there seems to be no resolution which does not eventually require US troops on the ground in Syria.

To better understand the background of the discussion, read this earlier blog post Iraqi-Syrian Civil WarPrimer.

The two sides of the Sunni-Shia war do have one thing in common, they both want to get rid of ISIL. The Shia have fought them since the beginning, and now that the Sunni rulers see them as a political threat, they are stepping up also to fight them. Tepidly, of course.

The major problem with our current strategy is that we want to fight this war against ISIL more than the surrounding Sunni Muslim countries want to fight it. Right now the US is leading the air strikes with token Sunni assistance. Air strikes alone cannot defeat ISIL, because they will quickly learn how to dig bunkers. Someone on the ground will have to go in and flush out the rats.

As you can see on the above map, the network of ratholes will be very extensive.

In Iraq the US is counting on Kurdish and Shiite forces, who can control the ground in their own ethnic areas, but will meet stiff resistance in the Sunni areas now controlled by ISIL. This will in fact be a recruiting boon for ISIL, who can shout to the Muslim world that the Sunnis are being oppressed by the Zionist-loving Americans and their Shiite lackeys. In order to push ISIL out of Iraq, Sunni troops are needed on the ground.

 Turkey could easily provide them, but has not, nor have the other Sunni nations pledged ground troops.  Why?  They have a love/hate relationship with ISIL and are not determined to be rid of them.  The same Sunni states that we need to defeat ISIL have had some hand in funding them.

Another problem is mission creep on bombing ISIL in Syria. On the opening day, the US began bombing non-ISIL targets. Sure they were bad guys, but not the ones we were supposed to bomb. There are lots and lots of bad guys in Syria and lots and lots of reasons to bomb them. The Assad regime is wicked and brutal, Hezbollah is fighting alongside them, and Al-Qaeida is still in Syria.

We supposedly have the needed Sunni troops on the ground in Syria (FSA) but we will have to train and equip them first. They are already talking about how this US help will allow them to overthrow the Assad regime. How long will it take until the US is bombing all sides in that part of the war?  The need to destroy ISIL will morph into the need to topple the Assad regime so that we can finish off ISIL once and for all.  This is how US troops will be sucked into Syria.

President Obama has called the US-led bombings a “coalition of the willing” composed of European allies and a few Sunni states.  "Willing" is not enough. ISIL is determined.  The US should not enter this war until the Sunnis form a “coalition of the determined” and commit ground troops. Otherwise, it will be Americans on the ground. Again.  This time in Syria as well.

Where might ISIL strike next?

ISIL has already occupied a lot of the "friendly territory" available to it, which was the source of early rapid expansion. Lebanon is not a place where many will welcome them, as they have already discovered.  Hezbollah would prevent any serious ISIL incursion.  There is another area where they'd be welcomed by many, and that is Jordan. 

The fall of Jordan, if such happened, would be worse that the loss of Iraq. It would almost force Israel to take action, since there would now be a border with the Islamic State. It would also open up a new road for expansion into the Hijaz, which might well be one of the stronger areas of support for ISIL (among the people, not the rulers).

Jordan is fairly stable and well defended, so this is not a likely outcome, but it is a possibility. I don't think anyone foresaw how quickly the Iraqis would crumble.

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