When ISIS executed a Jordanian pilot by immolation and released the video as propaganda, they may have lit a fire for which they weren’t prepared. Jordan’s King Abdullah quoted the Clint Eastwood film Unforgiven to promise revenge, and he meant what he said. Jordan has shifted “thousands” of troops to the Iraqi border after stepping up aerial attacks on ISIS leadership, according to NBC News:
Jordan has deployed “thousands” of ground troops to its border with war-torn Iraq as it ramps up a campaign against ISIS militants who burned alive a pilot, two Jordanian government officials told NBC News on Tuesday.
Supposedly this is a border force to prevent ISIS infiltration from Iraq, but right now the terrorist quasi-state has its hands full dealing with the Kurds and the coalition bombing. The UAE has now rejoined the latter effort after initially balking when the Jordanian pilot could not be retrieved. The brutal manner of his execution seems to have convinced the emirate to re-engage, in yet another example of the backfire over ISIS’ attempts to intimidate others in the region.
The Jordanian ground troops may have another purpose. Sky News reports that the Iraqi military will begin a “major ground offensive” against ISIS in western Iraq over the next few weeks:
John Allen, the US co-ordinator for the anti-IS coalition of Western and Arab countries, said on Sunday Iraqi troops would begin a major offensive ‘in the weeks ahead’.
‘When the Iraqi forces begin the ground campaign to take back Iraq, the coalition will provide major firepower associated with that,’ he told Jordan’s official Petra news agency.
Iraqi forces have already carried out operations near Baghdad and in Diyala and Salaheddin provinces north of the capital.
IS-led militants were stopped short of Baghdad in June and have since been pushed back, but can still carry out deadly attacks.
It seems a little too coincidental that the Jordanian military has deployed to the border with Iraq as the time for this offensive approaches. The Jordanians might just plan to hold the border as an anvil for the Iraqi hammer that aims to crush ISIS forces in between. Given the nature of Jordanian morale at the moment and the issues with Iraqi morale last year in the collapse before ISIS, one might think that the roles could be reversed, or more likely that the two forces would coordinate on offense. It’s doubtful that this deployment is meant just as a robust Border Patrol.
Ground forces are the only way to roll back ISIS. They hold territory, and very specifically urban territory that makes it politically impossible to annihilate them into retreat from air power alone. Even if they did pull back, a lack of boots on the ground to hold liberated ground would mean it wouldn’t be liberated for long. Whether it means American troops or not, the only way to degrade and destroy ISIS is to deny them territory, and that means an army on the ground to liberate and garrison their presently-held turf.
The Saudi-friendly, London-based Asharq al-Awsat an a column from its former editor calling for a pan-Arab army to sweep across Iraq and Syria to destroy ISIS. He also scoffs at Barack Obama’s “indolence,” and at his professed “strategic patience,” referring to it instead as “strategic cowardice”:
The international anti-ISIS coalition now needs to shift gear and put Arab boots on the ground in Syria and Iraq, bolstering these forces with aerial bombardment. This is the only way to contain and eventually destroy ISIS. Today we have before us a US president who has adopted a policy of “strategic patience” in dealing with a phenomenon like ISIS, a policy he plans to practice until the end of his term in 2016. I’m not bringing this up just to lambast Obama; the man has had more than his fair share of criticism recently. The point of mentioning all this is that our region simply does not have the luxury of Obama’s indolence. For this reason, a full-scale but balanced Arab military mobilization is needed right now. This will include sending in a coalition of ground troops made up of Arab countries as well as funding and arming the Free Syrian Army (FSA), putting them in Jordan and unleashing them from there once ISIS is being elbowed out of the areas it currently controls in Syria and Iraq. Crucially, Assad must not be allowed to benefit from ISIS’s becoming weakened as a result of this offensive. After all, it was Assad who allowed, and directly helped, ISIS grow and become stronger until he could use the group as a crutch with which to hold the world ransom with two stark choices: me, or the deluge. In reality, ISIS and Assad are two sides of the same coin.
A military offensive of this kind would be the most appropriate response to the horrifying murder of Kasasbeh by ISIS. It would also help break this group once and for all and at the same time block, through the support of the FSA, any gains made by a resurgent Assad or ally Iran as a result. Most importantly, though, it would help lay the ground for serious political changes in the region, especially in Syria, and set the stage for a climate free of Obama’s “strategic cowardice.”
It looks like the Jordanians are on board, but … where is the Saudi army? Perhaps Tariq Alhomayed can report back on their status in his next column. He’s correct about the need to limit the Iranian influence in Iraq and prevent a vacuum in which they can control Baghdad even more than they do now, but Iraq is still a majority Shi’ite country. The Shi’a are not going to sit comfortably while Sunni armies vie to replace ISIS in western Iraq — and neither will the Assad government in Syria.