By Sal Bommarito
Many Americans are growing increasingly skeptical about the mission to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS. Comprehensive reporting by the New York Times will not allay these concerns.
The following is a list of issues facing the U.S. in its confrontation with ISIS in Iraq and Syria that were documented in the Times article.
• Spotty intelligence, poor weather and an Iraqi army that only now is going on the offensive are challenging commanders.
• Weekend airstrikes included a convoy of ten armed trucks and two checkpoints. Sadly, we are using munitions and weapons technologies that cost billions to destroy a few trucks and an outpost.
• The slow pace of Iraqi and Kurdish engagements is influencing the air war. The result is that ISIS fighters are digging in and avoiding bombs.
• Bomber pilots are seeking out targets of opportunity such as checkpoints, artillery and combat vehicles. The preferred method of conducting the air war would be to use ground forces to root out fighters and identify high value targets for the bombers. Finding targets is difficult from the air, and so, only one in four planes are dropping their loads.
• American commandos are not active in either Iraq or Syria so no raids on military camps and safe houses are occurring. These attacks generated useful information in previous confrontations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
• Airstrikes are constrained by concerns about collateral damage. Civilian casualties could alienate Sunni tribesmen in western Iraq, in particular. This is a group the coalition hopes will fight ISIS.
• The current request for funding the war of $5 billion is woefully low to conduct operations and train indigenous troops.
• The coalition is dependent upon the new Iraqi government to be inclusive towards Sunnis. If disenfranchisement of Sunnis by Shiites resumes, Sunnis may not fight ISIS. Given the bad blood between the sects, this contingency is highly probable.
• The pace of the training of Iraqi soldiers is very slow giving the enemy an opportunity to prepare for a counter offensive.
• Pilots are finding it cumbersome to get approval to hit targets they identify. This is related to concerns about collateral damage.
• The air campaign has averaged five strikes a day in both Iraq and Syria. In Libya, NATO carried out 50 strikes. In Afghanistan, 85 daily strikes occurred. In Iraq in 2003, 800 strikes occurred. The impact on ISIS of U.S. airpower at the current rate is relatively insignificant.
David A. Deptula, a retired three-star Air Force general who fought in Afghanistan and the first Iraq War said, “Air power needs to be applied like a thunderstorm, and so far we’ve only witnessed a drizzle.” General Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff said, “It’s going to take people on the ground, ground forces.” He added, “the priority is to develop ‘indigenous forces’ to retake territory from ISIS . . . [if the current strategy is unsuccessful], then we’re going to have to reassess, and decide whether [to deploy U.S. ground forces].”
The ISIS situation is becoming a monstrous problem with the potential to continue for years. The U.S. should not have entered the fray unless its leaders were prepared to complete the mission expeditiously.