The war against ISIS is only several months old and nothing truly remarkable has occurred. ISIS is making progress in some areas near Baghdad and being slowed down in other areas. What will be truly interesting is what happens after the November elections.
Coalition airstrikes and Iraqi ground forces have slowed the ISIS offensive in Iraq. Conversely, there are reports that it will be many months or a year before the Iraqi army can mount an offensive to take terrain back. It was only after several beheadings and the collapse of four Iraqi divisions, which allowed ISIS to seize large amounts of territory that the US took its limited actions. Defense Department officials point out that with the aid of airstrikes that the Iraqi military have retaken Mosul Dam and halted ISIS’s efforts to expand its reach in some locations. However ISIS just captured a village outside of Baghdad and slaughtered numerous civilians.
US military advisors believe that before Iraq can launch a broad campaign to retake terrain the Iraqi security forces must be rebuilt. Even though the United States spent billions of dollars arming and training them after the US withdrawal these forces got caught up in the ongoing political struggle. The fact that administration failed to maintain a residual force contributed to this erosion of capability.
In Syria, in spite of Turkey’s lack of support, the combination of airstrikes and Kurdish resistance prevented ISIS from seizing the town of Kobane. (It seemed so strange to see Turkish tanks deployed overlooking Kobane watching the attack by ISIS without lifting a finger. Turkey continues to deny allies basing rights there to facilitate the air campaign.
Recently ISIS shot down a low level Iraqi fighter. US Defense officials were quick to point out that US aircraft are not vulnerable to engagements by the short range shoulder fired rockets (MANPADS) that shot down the Iraqi Sukhoi Su-25 ‘Frogfoot’ ground-attack aircraft. Such a capability deployed in the agricultural area surrounding the Baghdad airport is not readily defensible. MANPADS-equipped fighters who infiltrate close to the airport perimeter would have the capability to engage aircraft on landing and take-off. This poses a significant risk.
Reports last week indicate that ISIS, from its black market and other activities, is bringing in over a million dollars a day. That kind of resources can fund a lot of terrorist activities.
Barbaric terrorist acts continue to be the norm with ISIS. In fact the entire conflict was changed this week with ISIS encouraging its supporter throughout the world –and especially in the US and Canada to launch “lone wolf” attacks against the police, the military and their families and journalists. Two such attacks occurred this week with the shooting in Canada’s parliament and a hatchet attack against New York policemen. The prospects for more such attacks are suggested by the intercept of three young women trying to travel to Syria to join ISIS.
Such attacks are designed to strike fear in the body politic and thus convince politicians that they should terminate their efforts against them. It is for this reason that after the election the Obama administration could be cowed by such threats and reduce/eliminate its efforts against ISIS.
Certainly ISIS has not yet been degraded, let alone destroyed. We are in for a long haul. Does the body politic have the stomach for said?