Sept. 11, 2014 by Darius
Last night, President Obama delivered a major speech outlining US plans to go after ISIS. According to Obama, the US will support local forces through airstrikes and supplies to defeat ISIS on the ground. He also said that the US will not hesitate to take the fight to ISIS in Syria as well.
This represents an excellent opportunity to end ISIS as a major threat. All the pieces are there; all that needs to be done is to not mess it up.
The US has succeeded with something very much like Obama’s proposal before: the campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan shortly after the events of September 11, 2001. There, US air power pulverized Taliban fighters as Afghan allies swept across the country, coming to control all of Afghanistan within a few months. The fight against ISIS can be even easier. However, we all know the Taliban were not completely defeated but instead were able to stage a return several years later. Why? First of all, Pakistan granted a safe haven to Taliban leaders and a core cadre of fighters. But ISIS is the enemy of every country bordering the area it controls. ISIS will not be able to run anywhere. Second, in Afghanistan, most Taliban fighters were also of the local population. When the war went badly, they simply went home and buried their guns for a few years. But most of ISIS’s fighters are not from the population in the territory they control. In short, they have nowhere to hide either.
Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. That means that ISIS will need to stand and fight. As al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen and al-Shabaab in Somalia can attest, terrorist groups do not do well when fighting both local forces and US airstrikes. Both these groups were forced back into classic terrorism, such as suicide bombings and gun attacks. ISIS doesn’t really have that option: because ISIS has built itself up as a fearless caliphate governing territory, its reputation cannot survive the transition into terrorism.
The critical test to see if ISIS can be defeated will be whether the US and its allies actually expand their operations into Syria in a meaningful way. If that is done, ISIS could be almost finished within a matter of months. If the Syrian side of the equation remains unsolved, though, ISIS will continue to fester.
Eliminating ISIS does not put either Iraq or Syria back together again, though. That requires a political response, which may well make the military response look effortless.