“We don’t understand real evil, organized evil very well,” said America’s former ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, in an interview with The New York Times. “This is evil incarnate.”
“People like [Islamic State commander] Abu Bakar al-Baghdadi have been in a fight for a decade,” he added. “They are messianic in their vision, and they are not going to stop.”
President Barack Obama authorized military strikes on select targets in Iraq on Thursday aimed only to halt the Islamic State’s advance on the cities of Erbil, the Kurdish capital in the north, and Baghdad. At the same time, however, the president continues to assure the American public that this is not the start of a third Iraq War. For the time being, the introduction of American ground forces has been ruled out.
American military commanders seem to think that the president’s strategy of using airpower alone to reduce the threat posed by the Islamic State fighters is insufficient.
“We must neutralize this enemy,” Army Lt. Gen. Mick Bednarek, U.S. chief of the Office of Security and Cooperation-Iraq told a Military Times reporter. “This is not just an Iraqi issue. This is not just a regional issue.”
He added that, as even those only familiar with the threat posed by the Islamic State through media accounts know, this organization “is not just a violent extremist organization.”
“This is an army,” Bednarek added, “and it takes an army to defeat an army.”
Regardless of the assurances the president has made to a war-weary public, a report in CBS This Morning on Friday indicates that American military officials are aware of just how comprehensive a military campaign aimed at neutralizing this fundamentalist threat will have to be.
“Senior officials describe ISIL forces as swift, effective, and capable of carrying out military mission with quote ‘tremendous military proficiency,’” CBS news reporter Major Garrett reported. “The Iraqi army and Kurdish fighters have been no match for them. Now, from the air, the U.S. will join the fight. Top advisers predict a long, very long military campaign.”
CBS reporter David Martin noted that the humanitarian airlift operation “could foreshadow a much larger military campaign.” He noted that at least 150 American military advisors and an “unknown number of diplomats” remain in Erbil, a city under siege by Islamic State forces.
“Until this week, the Kurdish region had been considered so secure that the United States had chosen it as one of two Iraqi locations safe enough to transfer staffers from the U.S. Embassy in Iraq. But a sense of dread fell over the Kurdish capital on Thursday as the magnitude of the Islamic State threat became clear,” read a McClatchy news report revealing the fear that has overtaken that Iraqi city.
Military officials are already indicating that strikes in Iraq could be far broader than what the president described. “One senior administration official suggested that could include strikes on militants that have captured Iraq’s largest dam near Mosul,” a Wall Street Journal report read.
“We’re laying down a marker here,” an unnamed administration official said. “Just their presence…and the potential threat they pose could lead us to take action if targets present themselves.”
UPDATE: The first strikes on ISIS targets are already underway, according to the Pentagon:
US military aircraft conduct strike on ISIL artillery. Artillery was used against Kurdish forces defending Erbil, near US personnel.
— Rear Adm. John Kirby (@PentagonPresSec) August 8, 2014