The Pentagon is eager to portray America’s low intensity, limited commitment war in Iraq and Syria against the Islamic State as a glittering success. So much so, in fact, that Pentagon planners are willing to omit ISIS’s gains on maps of the tactical situation in the region.
The reality is slightly less encouraging. Since Wednesday, clashes in eastern Syria have claimed dozens of lives amid an ISIS assault on the provincial capital of Deir Ezzor. If the city fell, a key regime-controlled military airport might also fall into ISIS hands.
“Four government soldiers were beheaded by IS Thursday as the jihadists seized a key checkpoint in the city near the air base,” the AFP reported.
Abdel Rahman said fighting continued into Friday morning with both sides shelling positions on the outskirts of Deir Ezzor city.
Local activist Mohammad al-Khleif confirmed IS had gained control of the Jamyan checkpoint in the city’s southeast.
IS already controls most of Deir Ezzor province and roughly half its capital, he told AFP.
Meanwhile, in Iraq, ISIS fighters have mounted an assault on the Baiji oil refinery. According to local reports, the Islamist insurgency’s spectacularly successful assault has taken over 80 percent of that facility from Iraqi forces.
“While Iraqi forces have lost significant ground there in the last few days, the official described the battlefield situation as ‘highly contested’ and said Iraqi forces have suffered steady losses leading to the current situation,” CNN reported.
U.S. and coalition fighter jets have been able to strike ISIS fighting positions and supply routes around the refinery, but are not striking inside, the official said. The reason, in part, is to preserve as much of the infrastructure as possible for the future. But the official emphasized in key areas ISIS controls, U.S. airstrikes can only have a limited impact against ISIS which can move fighters into areas in small, not easy to find groups.
The refinery is considered strategic because it is key infrastructure and it is located on a major approach route to the city of Mosul, which Iraq forces hope to take back from ISIS in the coming months. However, the refinery has been non-operational for some time.
For their part, congressional Republicans appear to hope that the war on ISIS simply disappears from the headlines. GOP leadership has joined with the White House in dragging their feet as a small group of lawmakers resume their push to force the legislature to explicitly authorize the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. “From the outside, their odds of success don’t look good,” Yahoo’s Olivier Knox observed.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee members of both parties have been sharing legislative language that they hope will help overcome resistance from Democrats and Republicans alike to the draft AUMF Obama sent to Congress. They aim to forge a bipartisan consensus that reflects the broad national agreement on the need to take on the Islamic State, also known as ISIL and ISIS.
“We have begun those conversations,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., told Yahoo News by telephone Thursday. But he warned against moving forward with legislation that could not command broad bipartisan support. “Right now, I don’t think there’s anybody who thinks the U.S. is divided on ISIS … I don’t want a vote to show division in our country,” he said.
What nonsense. What dangerously unrepublican thinking. So long as it remains a constitutional republic, there will always be division in this country and specifically in the federal legislature. The stifling of dissent is the province of autocracies. The White House is setting an extremely dangerous precedent by applying military force in theaters of its choosing for as long as it likes. The fact that this precedent is being abetted by a GOP-dominated Congress is unconscionable.
Republicans in Congress should authorize this war and demand that the president start to execute it with a wartime president’s clarity of purpose. To bequeath this conflict to his successor, as Barack Obama seems inclined to do, is the height of irresponsibility. Congress should not make itself complicit in that recklessness.