Relying on surrogates, ignoring Islamist element seen as flaws.
President Barack Obama is still holding back in his stated determination to defeat the Islamic State, according to one military expert.
Richard Brennan, senior political scientist at The RAND Corporation, said that Obama’s reluctance to employ U.S. troops in the battle leaves a critical gap that is unlikely to be filled successfully by partner nations.
President Obama on Wednesday laid out a long-term U.S. strategy against the terrorist group that would include expanding airstrikes against its fighters in Iraq, launching strikes against them in Syria for the first time and bolstering the Iraqi military and moderate Syrian rebels to allow them to reclaim territory from the militants.
The U.S. already has launched more than 150 airstrikes against militants in Iraq over the past month, and has sent military advisers and millions of dollars in humanitarian aid, including an additional $48 million announced Wednesday.
“The military portion of this strategy can only succeed if air power is used to provide close air support to ground operations,” Brennan said in an email exchange with Aleteia. Brennan is a career Army officer with high-level Department of Defense policy-making experience on issues relating to the war in Iraq, conflict resolution and war termination, homeland defense, and strategic planning. “However, the campaign laid out by the president is totally dependent upon surrogate forces; and it is unlikely that those forces have the capabilities needed to be successful without the direct assistance of U.S. ground forces. U.S. ground forces will be needed to train, advise and assist these surrogate forces. They will be necessary to fill critical capability gaps that these immature surrogate forces will have.”
Brennan added that some U.S. ground forces will also be necessary to provide air-ground controllers that are integrated within surrogate forces to make certain that the air and ground campaigns are complementary. “Eventually the United States will need to employ U.S. special forces to work with surrogate forces in combat operations,” he said. “The United States will also need to employ its counter terrorism forces to work side-by-side with the Iraqi Special Operations Forces, Jordanian Special Operations Forces and others to successfully conduct they type of missions that will be necessary to degrade and destroy ISIL.”
As part of the administration’s strategy, Secretary of State John Kerry sought to pin down Middle Eastern allies gathering in Saudi Arabia on Thursday on what support they are willing to give to the new U.S. plan to beat back the Islamic State. Regional support is seen as key to combatting the spread of the militant group, which has forced Christians and other religious minorities out of their ancestral villages in the north of Iraq. Nearly 40 nations have agreed to contribute to what Kerry predicted will be a worldwide fight to defeat the group.
Kerry is aiming to build a coalition in the region, with Sunni Arab allies and NATO member Turkey playing leading roles. Already, Saudi Arabia has agreed to open its military bases to train moderate Syrian rebels, according to the United States. Some Gulf states could help with airstrikes, as the United Arab Emirates and Qatar did in the U.S.-led aerial campaign over Libya in 2011 that helped lead to the ouster of Moammar Gadhafi. Gulf nations could also assist with arms, training, intelligence and logistics.
The coalition-building efforts could be hampered, however, by squabbling among Washington’s allies in the region. For example, Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and Egypt are at odds with Qatar and Turkey because of the latter’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups in the region.