US President Barack Obama is close to ordering an air strike on Al Qaeda in Iraq and Syria, DEBKA Weekly’s military sources report from Washington, after White House and Pentagon officials meeting on July 2 gave this serious thought.
The Islamic State (IS, formerly known as ISIS) is the probable mark, although those sources say “it is possible there could be a US air strike on other targets that will stabilize the situation in Iraq.”
Under consideration are US missiles fired from ships or bases in the Middle East or even from America.
Washington’s most advanced surveillance systems, including military satellites and intelligence drones, are already scanning the area to secure direct hits on as many targets as possible.
A US strike in Iraq or Syria would mark a radical shift in Obama’s Middle East policy, which until now has rejected any direct military intervention in both war-torn countries.
According to our military sources, the US air assault contemplated would not be a short in-and-out operation, but take days or even weeks for a thorough cleanup. It would consume time because, unlike an organized army with fixed command centers and bases, IS consists of loose bands on the move who can scatter to hideouts at speed before they can be pinned down.
Sunnis allied with Al Qaeda will be targeted for US strikes
Our military experts see the Americans listing attainable targets with an eye to disrupting Al Qaeda’s objectives:
1. The Al Qaeda affiliates massing at or advancing on Iraq’s borders with Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. By lopping off these jihadist tentacles, the US campaign would avert the spillover of Iraq’s war to its neighbors.
2. The elimination of IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his operational headquarters would put the brakes on IS momentum.
3. The Iraqi Sunnis who have thrown in their lot with Al Qaeda. Here, caution is required to avoid harming the Sunni groups trained by US forces and seen as potential partners in the efforts of the semi-autonomous Kurdish entity’s leaders to stabilize northern and western Iraq (See a separate item in this issue on Kurdish independence).
However, the US will drive hard against the Naqshbandi Sunnis, a Sufi religious order associated with dervish mystics, whose ritual includes deep trances. Naqshbandi soldiers and officers served the late Saddam Hussein’s army. Populating hundreds of village across Iraq’s Sunni heartland, they are a major element in the IS drive and believed to be still loyal to Saddam’s former deputy, Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri.
Targeting oil fields and transport links in Syria
4. Possible targets in north and southeast Syria, where Al Qaeda controls most of Syria’s oilfields, and major transportation links and bridges, that Al Qaeda uses to shuttle fighters and equipment between Iraq and Syria.
5. Stores of American weapons captured as booty by IS in the past few weeks are marked for destruction. US intelligence sources believe the militant organization has plundered enough new arms to furnish at least four full military divisions.
6. Washington may also go for Iraqi locations to help smooth the Kurds’ path to independence and the acquisition of more territory.
DEBKA Weekly’s military sources say US forces under CENTCOM and the armies of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel are all in a state of high alert in readiness for likely repercussions from possible US air strikes.