President Obama’s strategy for ISIS has failed. Now he is reduced to token gestures like the recently announced deployment of another 450 troops to help train the Iraqi army. There is no real chance the Iraqis are going to defeat ISIS and the sooner we accept this, the better chance we have of taking down the Caliphate’s black flag. The United States military will need to be actively involved, and if we don’t do it, the Iranians will.
The President has determined he will not commit U.S. combat troops to fight ISIS. This leaves two likely outcomes, neither of which is good. One is the continued expansion of the Caliphate as a threat in the region; a rallying point for jihadists worldwide, and an incubator for evil. The second is the continued intrusion of Iran into the fight and the solidification of its control over the Iraqi government and the region.
ISIS is a horrific evil that defies most people’s ability to even grasp. The images of a man burning alive in a cage and women in chains sold as sex slaves cause most of us to simply look away in horror. But, the truth is Iran is actually the bigger threat in the region and to the world. The Mullahs in Teheran are building a nuclear bomb that will set off an arms race that could cause the ancient Sunni and Shi’a conflict to explode, hopefully not literally.
A Shi’a axis consisting of the Iraqi Army, Shi’a militias and Iranian Revolutionary Guards is now arrayed against ISIS. These forces rampaging through the Sunni regions of Iraq will certainly commit sectarian atrocities and could set off that greater regional conflagration. The lack of U.S. air support to Iraqi units is forcing them to rely on the artillery and rockets of their Iranian allies who lack our precision strike capability: The streets of Ramadi could look like German cities after WWII bombing raids, with the same massive numbers of civilian casualties.
In order to defeat ISIS without enabling an Iranian-led bloodbath, the U.S. needs to do several things; train, arm, and operate with the Sunni tribes in Anbar Province; and, do the same with the Kurdish Peshmerga forces. The Sunni leaders can identify the bad guys are and they are not happy about being pushed aside by ISIS. The Kurds have shown the ability to defeat ISIS, and could do much more if they were provided weapons and supplies denied to them by the Baghdad government.
The Sunnis joined us in the Anbar Awakening and together we defeated the precursor to ISIS, al Qaeda in Iraq. But, when we pulled our troops out of Iraq, we abandoned the Sunnis to the not-so-tender mercies of the Shi’a central government. We will have to offer the Sunnis a good reason to join with us again, in light of our past betrayal. The answer could be their own state. There is no reason other than inertia for the current borders of Iraq to put Sunni and Shi’a enemies as well as the Kurds in the same state. The Kurds have essentially formed their own nation, so a good solution that could bring actual stability to the region may be to allow the different groups of Mesopotamia self-determination and draw smarter lines on the map accordingly.
We also need to change the rules of engagement to allow our troops to accompany Iraqi forces on combat operations and to shorten the process for getting airstrikes approved. U.S. advisors on missions can provide command and control and fire support coordination, both of which will greatly increase effectiveness and the likelihood of victory. We should also greatly ramp up the number of Special Operations raids against ISIS forces in their rear areas. This will disrupt their leadership and force them to disperse from known and centralized locations.
The current hands off, or boots off, strategy cannot lead to victory over ISIS. The plan outlined above is detailed here as part of the Center for Security Policy’s Secure Freedom Strategy to defeat all elements of the Global Jihad Movement. Our enemies declared war on us; it is now time for us to return the favor.