But the activists say Washington should have been prioritizing efforts to disrupt the extremists by dividing the Islamic State from the Sunni populations a long time ago. Today, they hold out little hope there will be a quick unraveling of the alliances ISIS has forged. They point to the less than enthusiastic take-up by eastern Syrian tribesmen of U.S. invitations to join the so-called “train-and-equip force,” which US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter has told lawmakers currently consists of only 60 recruits.
“It was assumed too much that the tribes would react to the brutality of ISIS—the beheadings and torture,” says a British intelligence official based in Turkey. For all of the 24/7 Western media coverage of the medieval barbarity of the extremists—the decapitations and immolations, the drownings and crucifixions—there remain plenty of Arabs in the caliphate who are resigned to ISIS-rule, fearing the alternative will be the gang-warfare chaos of other rebel-held territories.
“At least there is some order,” said Ahmed, a 31-year-old barber and father of three small boys, as he waited recently with his veiled wife to cross back from Turkey into Syria at the Akcakale border gate.