Obama’s ISIS strategy: wait 3 years and PUNT

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I remember being a young captain preparing to deploy to Kuwait for Operation Desert Shield/Storm. It was my first combat deployment, but we were more than capable, well-trained and equipped for open desert warfare. We amassed a coalition of several Arab states — I remember seeing Soviet-made Syrian T-64 tanks — we had always trained to kill those suckers. I was in the 1st Infantry Division and our mission was to be the main effort breach force of the initial Iraqi Army defenses. We had been hearing all about the vaunted Iraqi Army, and Saddam Hussein had promised it would be the “Mother of All Battles” – yeah, right.

I remember the opening night of the air campaign – a lot different from air strikes. We didn’t have “drones” in those days, but the combination of the new Apache attack helicopters with their deep strike capability and fixed wing aircraft made for an impeccable display of air power — but even that combination could not do it alone.

When the day came for us to finally launch our ground attack, we began a systematic assault that crushed what was the world’s fifth largest army in 96 hours. I remember the highway of death where our air forces caught the fleeing Iraqi Army out in the open — rules of engagement? Yep, kill the enemy. We had unleashed the full military power of the U.S. military within the strategic objective of removing the Iraqi Army from Kuwait.

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Given my battlefield experience, it is with some bewilderment that I learned the framework of President Obama’s basic “strategy” to deal with ISIS. According to Hot Air, “Over the weekend, President Barack Obama revealed his intention to deliver a speech to the American people in which he will outline the pillars of his administration’s strategy to roll back the Islamic State and ultimately defeat it.”

“In Monday’s New York Times, however, the bullet points of Obama’s strategy was revealed; roll back the Islamic State in Iraq, train and equip a functional Iraqi army, and eventually execute strikes inside Syria. The plan will take years to carry out, the Times reported, and will likely go beyond Obama’s presidency. “The final, toughest and most politically controversial phase of the operation – destroying the terrorist army in its sanctuary inside Syria – might not be completed until the next administration,” the Times reported. “Indeed, some Pentagon planners envision a military campaign lasting at least 36 months.”

Thirty-six months? Thirty-six months to “roll back and defeat ISIS” which is a 10,000- to 13,000-sized force, basically a division-sized element in U.S. military formation terms. Likely to go beyond Obama’s presidency? That’s the strategy? Punt to the next administration? I’ve never heard of a plan that says we’ll basically delay decisive action until the next administration. Say what you wish, but major combat operations in Iraq had ceased when Obama came onto the scene. His job was to secure a stable situation – instead he chose a political solution.

Back in January when ISIS came into Iraq and secured western Al Anbar cities of Fallujah and Al Ramadi, its size was somewhere between 1,500 to 2,000 — I was reading open source intel reports — I guess Obama should have read his daily intel briefs. At the time, ISIS was dismissed as a “JV” team and now, eight months later we see its size, territorial expanse and financial resourcing have all expanded. However, Obama continues to tell us what he is not willing to do. In fact, Obama recently revealed in an interview with Chuck Todd on NBC that he has no clue as to the difference between terrain and enemy-oriented operations. He fails to understand what strike operations entail.

“You’ve ruled out boots on the ground. And I’m curious, have you only ruled them out simply for domestic political reasons?” NBC’s Chuck Todd asked the president. “Because your own– your own guys have said, ‘You can’t defeat ISIS with air strikes alone.’” “Well, they’re absolutely right about that,” Obama replied. “But you also cannot, over the long term or even the medium term, deal with this problem by having the United States serially occupy various countries all around the Middle East. We don’t have the resources. It puts enormous strains on our military. And at some point, we leave. And then things blow up again.”

The fight against ISIS is not a terrain-oriented operation — occupation — it is enemy oriented, which means you develop your intel and strike the enemy where he presents himself — with the full spectrum of military means. We can certainly utilize Kurdish Peshmerga forces as a ground combat component but it has to be in conjunction with U.S. forces that can conduct highly mobile and maneuverable offensive combat operations — not occupation.

This is not about rebuilding anything, just destroying ISIS. In Afghanistan we did have UAE Special Operations forces as part of our coalition, the same could happen here, as well as Egyptian infantry forces. But the problem is that Obama is not a trustworthy partner.

Yes, you have to strike ISIS in Syria in its support bases and doing so has nothing to do with enabling Bashar al Assad. We can vet and enable insurgent forces within Syria much as we had the French underground forces assisting the allies in World War II. But we cannot put off striking ISIS in depth until three years from now.

“It may take a year, it may take two years, it may take three years,” Secretary of State John Kerry said at a NATO summit last week. “But we’re determined it has to happen.” That type of statement is certainly not likely to garner confidence in your allies — but it certainly emboldens your enemy.

What I think no one seems to comprehend is that the longer ISIS remains undeterred — and killing 30 to 60 here or there is not impactful – the stronger it grows financially and globally it increases it recruitment — and export of its ideology. Where is the sense of immediacy from Obama? And what about the issue of domestic jihadism and recruitment? Will part of Obama’s strategy be to cease the decimation of our own military?

It’s gonna be an interesting speech on Wednesday, the day before the 13th anniversary of 9-11. We continue to talk, while ISIS continues to act. And again, the level of air strikes is not reflective of a dedicated strategic air campaign, only measured tactical pin pricks — which gives the political impression of doing something that truly amounts to doing very little. So we shall waste time training and equipping the Iraqi Army — which is part of the mission a residual force would have done, had Obama not said no. And now he punts.

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