For months, the White House resisted calls by concerned observers to intervene in the conflict in Iraq and Syria where the Islamic State was capturing territory and massacring locals. Only after it appeared likely that the ancient Yazidi minority would be exterminated by ISIS fighters did the United States consent to intervene in Iraq. Similarly, America and its coalition allies attacked ISIS in Syria only when it seemed likely that the al-Qaeda affiliated Khorasan Group was plotting imminent attacks. This week, however, we learn that the Pentagon has effectively failed to achieve either the objective of preventing massacres in Iraq or forestalling Khorasan Group attacks on Western targets.
CNN reporters revealed late Wednesday night that the two men linked to the Khorasan Group targeted at the commencement of a campaign of airstrikes on Syrian targets (yes, it is a small “group”) likely survived the assault. What’s more, they continue to plan attacks on Western targets.
“Here’s what they don’t know: Were they never there to begin with, or did the Tomahawk missiles just miss them and they are alive, possibly injured, somewhere,” CNN’s Barbara Starr reported on Thursday.
She noted that these two individuals, al-Qaeda members originally from Pakistan with sophisticated weapons training, were and may still be working on explosive devices that could pass through metal detectors. Starr noted that the Pentagon believes these two men represent an “imminent threat” to American national security.
As for the Yazidi minority, they remain in jeopardy. Last week, Reuters reported that ISIS has renewed its advance on Mount Sinjar where this ancient religious minority was encircled by ISIS in August and threatened with extermination. “We are outnumbered and outgunned,” one Yazidi volunteer reported.
The Washington Post reported that the militants had seized villages and were blocking roads, as the volunteers protecting the area for more than two months were forced to pull back.
A U.N. official was quoted telling reporters on Tuesday that the actions against the minority group may amount to “attempted genocide.”
Reuters also quoted a Yazidi lawmaker questioning why U.S. planes were hitting ISIS positions in Kobani but not around Mount Sinjar.
Dispatches are now reaching the West which indicates ISIS fighters are torturing Yazidi women by subjecting them to systematic rapes and are consigning their children to slavery.
The Yazidis are not alone in facing the threat of a massacre at the hands of ISIS. There are reports today that those who fought as America’s “boots on the ground” in Iraq, Sunnis who stood up to the Islamist militia primarily composed of those who share the same faith, are being slaughtered.
— Jim Sciutto (@jimsciutto) October 30, 2014
While it seems ISIS’s advance on the cities of Kobani in Syria and Baghdad in Iraq has been stalled, it is not clear if the Islamic State’s territorial gains can be speedily reversed. The threat ISIS poses to both Iraqi forces and coalition assets, moreover, is increasing.
Video footage released by ISIS fighters in Iraq suggests the fundamentalist militants have now acquired Chinese shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles which might be responsible for the recent downing of Iraqi helicopters. One American official, speaking to The New York Times, characterized the weapons as “game changers.”
There have been many temporary successes in America’s war against ISIS, almost all of them offset by troubling setbacks. Nearly three months into Operation Inherent Resolve, it is not entirely clear what has been accomplished.