Tuesday, September 23, 2014

At war with ISIL

FA-18Es of the U.S. Navy launch from the USS George H. W. Bush yesterday, for airstrikes against ISIL  U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Robert Burck.

We are now in a full scale war with the Islamic State.  It is, for us, an air war.  On the ground, the troops will be natives of the region.  Iraqi Arabs and Kurds, and Syrians fighting their government and the Islamic State.  As a practical matter, while we do not wish to admit it, many of the ground troops that will be fighting the Islamic State in Syria, and who knows, perhaps in Iraq as well, will be Syrian regulars.   That's the practical reality of it.

It's popular to claim that airwars can't be won, but they can be and have been, if there's a substantial element on the ground, and here there is.  It isn't the best set of ground forces in the world, but then IS doesn't have a well trained army itself.  Compared to the Syrian army it's definitely a second string outfit, and it probably is compared to the Peshmerga, save for the fact that the Peshmerga is more attuned to fighting as a guerrilla army with light weapons, and IS is semi mechanized.

 F-35s of the U.S. Air Force, Florida.  This effort will undoubtedly provide the first combat deployment of the F-35.  Official U. S. Air Force photograph.

The Islamic State controls the roads, but that's about it.  It draws its support from vast stretches of territory it sort of influences beyond the roads, but the roads and the cities and towns attached to the roads are what it actually occupies for the most part. And a road dependent army can be degraded by raids.

The French army in Indochina was road dependent, and the Viet Minh controlled the countryside.  It took vast effort by the French Army to push out into the country, and they never lost their dependence on the roads.  In this war, IS is the French Army, and we're the Viet Minh.  Able to strike at any time day or night, there's not too many places for IS to hide. 

At some point, the war will go back to being a terrorist campaign by IS, which it was when IS was Al Queda in Iraq, its name before it rebranded itself in recognition of its nearly correct belief that it could establish an Islamic state on the Arab frontier, and make it a Caliphate, right now.  In that it nearly succeeded, but through the clever strategy of taking only the roads and major population centers.  That battle is probably over now and IS will go on the defensive.  

What will emerge is key.  To make this really successful, we must destroy ISIL.  Destroy it, not merely remove it from the population centers and roads.  And we have to plan for what comes after.  The Kurds have made it plain enough that what they don't want, really, is to have to rely on the anemic Shiia dominated Iraqi parliament. The Sunnis Arabs don't either, which is a lot of the reason ISIL has been so successful in this war, as Arab tribes united with it. Those same tribes will now abandon it, but that doesn't mean they want the Iraqi central government back.  Chaldean and Assyrian populations have also indicated that they feel they need their own state, as the lesson has now been fully learned what occurs to them when the winds shift suddenly over that Sunni sea.

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