Facing pressing demands to do something serious about the brutal Islamic State, US President Barack Obama threw together a mix of US air strikes, strengthening moderate Syrian rebel groups and enlisting friendly regional governments for the fight “to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL” A “core coalition” of nine NATO governments was put together, made up of Britain, France, Australia, Canada, Germany, Turkey, Italy, Poland and Denmark, whose leaders were assured that they were not expected to put boots on the ground.
The US President unveiled this plan at the NATO summit in Wales which ended Friday, Sept. 5
DEBKAfile’s military and counterterrorism sources conclude that his slick recipe lacked the most essential ingredient: Military muscle. No armed force capable of taking on the marching jihadis is to be found in all the vast territory of some 144,000 sq. km seized by the Islamist terrorists, between Raqqa in northrn Syria and the northwestern approaches to Baghdad.
Even in the unlikely event that President Obama was to pour out hundreds of billions of dollars to build such a force, the “core coalition” will hardly find any local governments ready to shoulder the mission, which would be potentially more daunting even that the Al Qaeda and Taliban challenge facing the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
The most the US president can hope for in the months remaining to the end of 2014 – and perhaps even much of 2015 – is a string of minor local successes, fought by small forces like the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga, with limited US air support.
Such low-intensity warfare will never gain enough traction to reverse or repel the IS onslaught. There is no real chance of an effort, so stripped-down of the basic tools of war, loosening the clutch of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant on a broad domain, or deterring thousands of jihadis from flocking to the vibrant new caliphate rising there from across the Muslim world, especially the Middle East and the Persian Gulf.
Getting to grips with this task would not take months, but much longer – certainly if it rests on the dim hope of rebuilding the Iraqi national army, which never recovered from its humiliating defeat at Islamist hands in May and June. None of its divisions remain intact, and most of them left their weapons on the battlefield in their haste to flee the enemy.
The only combat-trained forces in Iraq are Sunni militias. But they have lost faith in US steps in their country and many have opted to fight under the black SIS flag.
US spokesman hurried to contradict DEBKAfile’s disclosure of Friday, Sept. 5, that the Obama administration and Tehran were fighting ISIS together and sharing intelligence in Iraq and Syria.
But the facts on the ground are undeniable and are pushing Iraqi Sunni leaders and commanders into the arms of the jihadists, roughly 30,000 fighters whose numbers are being swelled by volunteers .
The Kurdish army may not be able to defend its semi-autonomous republic (KRG) and the oilfields of Kirkuk in the north with an army of no more than 20,000 troops, outdated weapons and no air force.
Obama’s reliance on moderate Syrian rebel groups to stand up and fight the Islamists is even less realistic, when they have recently started losing enough spirit to fight their arch enemy, Bashar Assad.
Around the region, too, Saudi King Abdullah and the Emirates will shun any US-led coalition that rests on military and intelligence cooperation with Iran.
President Obama will soon discover his mistake in offering Turkey’s new president Tayyip Erdogan a role in the “core coalition” as the only representative of the Muslim Middle East, and scorning to count Egypt and Saudi Arabia into his formula for “degrading and defeating” Al Qaeda.
Erdogan is by and large persona non grata in the Sunni Middle East, excepting only in Qatar. He has won further distrust of late for his avid courtship of Tehran in the footsteps of Barack Obama.
Ankara’s hands are moreover tied by its failure to obtain the release of 46 Turkish citizens including diplomats held hostage since the Islamists overran Mosul in June.