By the way, Obama’s ISIS strategy has all but collapsed in Syria

posted at 3:31 pm on November 3, 2014 by Ed Morrissey

Not too much attention has been paid to our efforts to “degrade and destroy ISIS” in the past few days. Perhaps the White House can find something in this election cycle for which to be grateful, because this Washington Post report on our efforts to use proxies for that mission would otherwise dominate the news cycle. Not only has the US focused entirely on preparing our “moderate” allies in Syria for defense rather than attacking ISIS, they turned out to be incompetent even at that effort:

The Obama administration’s Syria strategy suffered a major setback Sunday after fighters linked to al-Qaeda routed U.S.-backed rebels from their main northern strongholds, capturing significant quantities of weaponry, triggering widespread defections and ending hopes that Washington will readily find Syrian partners in its war against the Islamic State.

It’s not just that they got defeated — some of them switched sides:

Moderate rebels who had been armed and trained by the United States either surrendered or defected to the extremists as the Jabhat al-Nusra group, affiliated with al-Qaeda, swept through the towns and villages the moderates controlled in the northern province of Idlib, in what appeared to be a concerted push to vanquish the moderate Free Syrian Army, according to rebel commanders, activists and analysts.

Other moderate fighters were on the run, headed for the Turkish border as the extremists closed in, heralding a significant defeat for the rebel forces Washington had been counting on as a bulwark against the Islamic State.

Michael Totten says that Syria is gone, and so is any hope of containing ISIS without boots on the ground:

They were bad proxies anyway. The Syrian Revolutionary Front was an Islamist organization. Less deranged than Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, sure, but it was still an Islamist organization. Harakat Hazm is more secular, but it consists of a measly 5,000 fighters while the Islamic State has as many as 100,000.

Syria is gone. The only portions of that former country that may still be salvageable are the Kurdish scraps in the north. The Kurds are good fighters and they may be able to hold on with our help, but there is no chance they will ever destroy the Assad regime or the Islamic State. They don’t have the strength or the numbers.

So unless the United States decides to invade outright with ground forces—and fat chance of that happening any time soon—we’re going to have to accept that the geographic abstraction once known as Syria will be a terrorist factory for the foreseeable future.

To the east, Iraq is planning a new offensive against ISIS, but with phantom divisions, at least at the moment:

Iraqi security forces, backed by American-led air power and hundreds of advisers, are planning to mount a major spring offensive against Islamic State fighters who have poured into the country from Syria, a campaign that is likely to face an array of logistical and political challenges.

The goal is to break the Islamic State’s occupation in northern and western Iraq, and establish the Iraqi government’s control over Mosul and other population centers, as well as the country’s major roads and its border with Syria by the end of 2015, according to American officials.

Iraqi and Kurdish forces have made inroads in recent weeks in securing territory threatened or captured by the Islamic State, including the Rabia border crossing with Syria, the oil refinery in Baiji north of Baghdad, the northern town of Zumar, and Jurf al-Sakhar southwest of Baghdad.

But the major push, which is being devised with the help of American military planners, will require training three new Iraqi Army divisions — more than 20,000 troops — over the coming months.

Let’s try to remember a couple of points here. We trained the existing Iraqi army while we maintained a large presence in the country, funded their development and their armaments, and kept Nouri al-Maliki from purging the Sunnis and Kurds from its command. After several years, we produced a reasonably professional army, which had 271,000 active-duty troops (not necessarily all combat troops) as of March of this year. The Sunnis have been purged, and the Shi’ite militias are adding fighters. How long exactly will it take to recruit and train another 20,000, and what would be their effectiveness in an actual firefight? Considering how the trained military performed over the past few months, that doesn’t sound very promising at all.

The LA Times paints a dismal picture of those prospects:

The military collapsed in Mosul even though Washington spent eight years and $25 billion to train, arm and equip Iraq’s security forces. The United States has now deployed 1,400 advisors to try to rebuild the shattered military into a force that can repel Islamic State.

American commanders say the Iraqi army won’t be ready to mount operations to retake Islamic State-controlled cities such as Mosul for many months. Meanwhile, Iraq’s government has turned to Shiite Muslim militias and Sunni Muslim tribesmen as it scrambles to keep the Sunni militants from advancing on Baghdad and its airport.

The U.S. military has not explained how a few more months of “advise and assist” will create a functional army after years of training was followed by wholesale desertions in Mosul and in Anbar province to the west of Baghdad. Soldiers and police seeking to avoid mass executions if they were captured left behind weapons, ammunition, vehicles and other U.S.-supplied equipment now used by Islamic State to attack more government positions.

In fact, without Americans on hand to impose discipline, the prospects look hopeless:

Officers in one of many units that collapsed in Mosul, the 2nd Battalion of Iraq’s 3rd Federal Police Division, said their U.S. training was useful. But as soon as their American advisors left, they said, soldiers and police went back to their ways.

“Our commanders told us to ignore what the Americans taught us,” Shehab said. “They said, ‘We’ll do it our way.'”

In other words, good luck trying to “degrade and destroy” ISIS through the weak proxies on either side of the former Iraqi-Syrian border. As Totten writes, until we decide that this mission is worth doing ourselves, it won’t get done at all — or will it? The AP reported today that Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait are considering the formation of a ground force to intervene in the conflict, which might help in Syria — but might touch off a bigger war, since those nations want to push Bashar al-Assad out of power, too, and counter the influence of Iran:

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Bmore on November 3, 2014 at 7:44 PM




MidniteRambler on November 3, 2014 at 8:24 PM

Just for the record, there are plenty of GOP-types of the opinion that our big problem in Syria is that we haven’t armed and trained enough Syrian rebels. The only feasible solution to this problem is directing the attention of ISIS towards Iran.

hamiltmc on November 3, 2014 at 8:26 PM

When one of your prime policy honcho’s is John “Lurch” Kerry, what do you expect –
he changed sides too.

Another Drew on November 3, 2014 at 8:45 PM

By the way, Obama’s ISIS strategy has all but collapsed in Syria

Which strategy

A strategy to encourage ISIS over non ISIS is going well. There are rumors the US air strikes are more guided to take out Assad and his oil plans. A US strategy to erase Assad, diminish Russian influence and stop the Islamic pipeline would make Obama’s allies Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar very happy. I suspect the Saudis are happy since they are intentionally suppressing world oil prices by overpumping oil to the dismay of non muslim OPEC members. Dont think Saudis would give it away to America, unless it was a tit for tat. Normally, oil price drops help incumbents in US elections, or at least oil price rises hurt

I suppose because of the election, there is a virtual news blackout of what we are doing in Iraq and Syria.

The thing about ISIS, as bad as it is, it is still Sunni. Arabs dont like kuffirs killing their denominations, unless that denomination is doing something stupid like blowing up Kuwaiti oil fields. Right now, ISIS is helping Saudi Arabia and Qatar big time. And they are purging Christians, non Sunnis, and Iranian allies to boot.

I consider Obama to be Sunni, not Shia

entagor on November 3, 2014 at 8:58 PM

“Syria is gone, and so is any hope of containing ISIS without boots on the ground”

Question: Can the GOPe use this as a millstone in ’16, after the TEA Party facilitate the ’14 Wave?

socalcon on November 3, 2014 at 9:19 PM

When Obama took office, Iraq, Syria and Libya were quiet and stable.

Now, it’s a Middle Eastern bloodbath.

Won’t be long until Turkey, Iran, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and North Africa are drawn into the fighting.

Way to go, Mr. Smartest President.

MichaelGabriel on November 3, 2014 at 9:32 PM

Operation Reluctantly Committed Through or Until Mid-terms (Operation RCTUM) is almost over.

Buckshots on November 3, 2014 at 9:38 PM

Half-assed strategy doomed from the start. Yet another failure for this fool and his council of nitwits.

TheGrouch on November 3, 2014 at 9:47 PM

But the good news is that the White House has leaked a comment that they are prepped to “launch a counterattack” if the senate is lost.

They speak more forcefully to their ideological “enemies” than the ones wielding swords, menacing knives and AK-47s, screaming Allah Akbar.

tru2tx on November 3, 2014 at 9:59 PM

So 8 airstrikes per day isn’t going to do it then?

forest on November 3, 2014 at 10:47 PM

By the way, Obama’s ISIS strategy has all but collapsed in Syria

What strategy?

farsighted on November 4, 2014 at 12:10 AM

I say we use squirt guns. Maybe Eric Holder can funnel some into Syria.

Krupnikas on November 4, 2014 at 12:47 AM

The Obama administration’s Syria strategy suffered a major setback Sunday…

When the hell did that happen?!?!?!

I mean Obama having a strategy, not the collapse!

Rivendell on November 3, 2014 at 3:59 PM


What strategy?

farsighted on November 4, 2014 at 12:10 AM


entagor on November 3, 2014 at 8:58 PM

Ohhh … that “strategy” . . . . . Dittos, again.

listens2glenn on November 4, 2014 at 1:07 AM

Everyone knew from the beginning this ‘strategy’ – if it even qualifies as one – was doomed to fail. You can’t beat something with nothing, even if you add a hope and a prayer and very limited air strikes.

Obama is a complete failure.

Adjoran on November 4, 2014 at 1:35 AM

He never intended to defeat them….he spoke the truth when he first tried to explain it…to contain it and ‘manage’ the threat….that’s all he wants to do…then leave office and blame it on the next President..

freedomring on November 4, 2014 at 7:43 AM

Of Course It’s Not Working… Did Any Body Think It Would???

mmcnamer1 on November 4, 2014 at 8:14 AM

It’s George Bush’s fault.

Big Ern on November 4, 2014 at 11:40 AM

Collapse WAS the strategy. Obola had no intention of even hurting ISIS. The strategy worked exactly as it was designed to.

Give Obola the appearance that he was doing something, just until the elections today. Then afterwards, he can drop all the illusions, don his black mask and PJ’s and hoist the ISIS flag over the White House.

Meople on November 4, 2014 at 5:36 PM

I want to know who the “mental-midget” was that abruptly jerked all of our troops out of Iraq two years ago ? This is absolutely the biggest military blunder we have seen in many, many years ! And the White House foreign-policy has completely collapsed.

Bugdust172 on November 6, 2014 at 1:02 AM