The US War on ISIS Is Fading – Both in Syria and Libya
In the last two weeks, US and Russian aerial bombardments of Islamic State bases in Iraq and Syria have more or less petered out, DEBKA Weekly’s military and counterterrorism sources report.
US flights are shut out by the frequency and intensity of Russian sorties, despite their agreement to coordinate operations to avert collisions.
But rather than admitting to the slowdown, US officials are saying again that the territory and manpower wielded by ISIS are shrinking and the jihadis no longer present the same formidable challenge as they did.
In the same spirit of bravado, Saudi Arabia offered to send ground troops to Syria to fight the Islamic State.
This offer had no real substance, because Saudi troops are mired in the Yemen war, proving incapable of beating down the Houthi rebels whose arms are primitive compared to the ISIS arsenal.
US warplanes face a second deterrent: Russia has thrown its air defense and electronic warfare systems over Syria, laying a blanket that is too dense to challenge.
Several hours a day, the Russians jam the electronic systems of the air force and military intelligence networks of pro-US countries around Syria to keep their aircraft out of its airspace.
Turkey, Israel and Jordan have not uttered a word about this hostile Russian action and imposed a media blackout. There is not much they can do, when even the US is not willing to take it on.
In between gusty storms, Moscow makes a show of targeting ISIS, while in fact using the absence of US and allied planes to knock out one Syrian rebel stronghold after another and destroy their military infrastructure.
Its immunity from attack serves ISIS well for tipping the war over in its favor.
Hundreds – if not thousands – of rebels are fleeing eastward toward ISIS-controlled territories after their defeat by the combined armies of Russia, Syria, Iran, Hizballah and pro-Iranian Iraqi Shiite militias.
More rebels are in flight northward toward Turkey. There, they face a closed border, along with the tens of thousands of Syrian refugees, women, children and the elderly, driven out of their homes by the raging battle for Aleppo.
So desperate is the situation in the city of 400,000 – once Syria’s main commercial hub – that survivors, with whom DEBKA Weekly’s military sources speak almost daily, are saying they would welcome any conquerors, even ISIS, just to end their nightmare.
The US-instigated military campaign against ISIS in Libya is similarly bogged down.
The US, British and French special forces, which last month landed on Libya’s Mediterranean coast as a bridgehead, are waiting in vain for the main force to arrive and launch a comprehensive campaign to rid the country of ISIS and its stranglehold on Libyan oil.
Plans for the main invasion sit on US President Barack Obama’s desk, with no decision on D-Day.
For lack of much choice, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter paid a trip to NATO headquarters in Brussels this week to raise troop commitments from fellow anti-ISIS coalition member-states.
The pledges were given but he knew they didn’t mean much.
US Secretary of State John Kerry had this to say on Feb. 2 about the ISIS buildup in Libya: “The last thing in the world you’d want is a false caliphate with access to billions of dollars in oil revenue.”
Kerry missed the main point.
Control of Libyan oil is a secondary issue of the fast evolving SIS threat. The US, Europe and the rest of the world are facing the constant upgrading of Islamic State military capabilities in all its domains.
Former officers of the late Muammar Qaddafi’s regime are flocking to the Islamic State’s flag, just as Saddam Hussein’s highly experienced military chiefs last year took the lead of ISIS operations in Iraq and Syria.
The West is therefore not just fighting an Islamic terrorist organization, as it is often described, but an international Muslim legion, led by the reconstituted military elites of Libya and Iraq. They are professional generals, who for decades propped up the dictatorial regimes that pre-existed the US-led invasions of Iraq in 2003 and Libya in 2011. At their disposal are active ISIS followers in about 40 countries on the world’s continents.