Failure in the Fight Against ISIS

BY: KATHERINE GAN, CONTRIBUTOR

Operation Inherent Resolve, named for its “unwavering resolve and deep commitment,” is the US military operation in the fight against ISIS. Resonating with the international coalition’s goals of ousting the group from Syria and Iraq, the operation began on October 15th, 2014; yet, a year later, ISIS is stronger than ever, expanding beyond the Middle East, with affiliates even in the United States. The failure of the US and global approach can be attributed to the lack of a cohesive effort and the multitude of issues associated with the use of airstrikes.

While the international coalition has 65 members, the United States has led the majority of airstrikes in Syria and Iraq. In fact, an analysis by Cameron Glenn, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, reveals that “Operation Inherent Resolve costs about $10 million a day, with the U.S. bearing the brunt of the costs and operations. As of mid-September, U.S. warplanes had carried out 95% of the airstrikes in Syria and 68% of those in Iraq.”

The objective of the coalition was to take a multilateral approach, ensuring that the United States would work with countries around the world to ultimately destroy ISIS. Unfortunately, it seems the coalition has dwindled from 65 actors to one—the United States. A unilateral strategy has failed to mitigate conflicts in the past, and the current demise of the coalition ensures that will only continue into the future. It is essential for countries in the region—Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and even Iran—to put aside political and religious differences and unite to defeat ISIS. Countries in the Middle East are those most affected by the havoc ISIS is wreaking, as it has contributed to the ongoing refugee crisis. But without other actors, the coalition is doomed to fail.

Moreover, even if coalition members worked together, the current approach to diminishing ISIS’ power would still be unsuccessful.  Although airstrikes have been praised for being precise tools that maximize militant death, they often have significant civilian casualties. From August 8th, 2014 to December 31st, 2015, the use of airstrikes against ISIS resulted in between 1,778 and 2,332 noncombatant, civilian fatalities in 295 separate accidents.

Former Air Force service members explain the implications in a letter to President Obama, “We joined the Air Force to protect American lives and to protect our Constitution. We came to the realization that the innocent civilians we were killing only fueled the feelings of hatred that ignited terrorism and groups like ISIS, while also serving as a fundamental recruitment tool similar to Guantanamo Bay. This administration and its predecessors have built a drone program that is one of the most devastating driving forces for terrorism and destabilization around the world.” Simply put, since the airstrikes have resulted in massive civilian casualties, fulfilling ISIS’ propaganda that the West is launching a war against Muslims, making it the citizens’ obligation to join the fight. It is important to note that ISIS’s messages have motivated nearly 30,000 foreign recruits to travel to Syria and Iraq from all over the world. It is crucial for the United States and other nations to develop a strategy to combat the group’s recruitment and expansion, particularly over social media sites such as Twitter. Military actions alone cannot defeat the group.

However, when taking any military action, it is crucial to evaluate the humanitarian costs. While the coalition’s attempt to cut off ISIS’s funding has been demonstrated in airstrikes that target oil refineries, this often backfires, as it harms civilians the most. ISIS controls the oil fields, ensuring that any operation, whether for hospitals, farming, or even water, that requires diesel will need to have their approval. A businessman, near Aleppo, put it simply: “If diesel is cut off, there is no life here. ISIS knows this [oil] is a winning card.”

In addition, even if airstrikes are successful in taking out oil fields, they run the risk of harming those involved in the trade itself. ISIS’s oil trade is run and managed by many of the locals, ensuring that well targeted strikes could mean either civilian casualties or no chance of economic survival. Omar al-Shimali explains, “This is considered our infrastructure, and destroying it like this…shows that the objective is to kill the Syrian people.” This only fuels the fire and adds supporters to the ISIS regime and anti-West movement. Moreover, the consequences from using airstrikes put the United States and its allies in a predicament, in which “they may want to choke off ISIS’s finances to help dislodge the group from its territory, but they need to dislodge the group from its territory to choke off its finances.” It is imperative to consider the repercussions of military actions and how the United States may be perceived to the local populace, who like it or not, are intertwined with ISIS’s wealth and governance.

Airstrikes are a politically easier strategy, as they reduce the need for a deployment of ground troops, which has faced resistance from the American public. A poll after the Paris attacks conducted by Reuters revealed that 60% of those polled think that the United States should do more to counter ISIS, but 65% oppose sending ground troops into the region. If the United States truly wants stability in the Middle East, then it needs to change its strategy to combat ISIS both ideologically and military. Continuing policies of the past only ensures our defeat tomorrow.

We welcome Katherine to the Atlas Business Journal. If you disagree or agree with her, please leave a comment below. Thank you.