15 October 2014

The Air War Against the Islamic State: The Need for An “Adequacy of Resources”

OCT 13, 2014

The United States has stated from the start that it is conducting an air campaign to degrade the Islamic State, not to change the military situation in Syria or to substitute for Iraqi political unity and the eventual use of Iraqi ground forces. This, however, raises several key questions:

o What level of effort will be required over time to achieve America’s stated goal, and how will the air campaign have to change? So far, the air campaign has been minimal by any recent historical standard, and so limited that it is hard to see how it can be effective in either protecting Iraq from further gains by the Islamic State, critically degrading it in Syria, or providing humanitarian relief to threatened minorities, like the Kurds.

o Can Iraq build the necessary level of political cooperation and effective ground forces? There has been some Iraqi political progress, but no clear progress in bringing Sunni tribes and factions back into active political or military support of the central government. Nor has there been much progress in creating effective unity and cooperation with the Iraqi Kurds and Pesh Merga, or producing a greater capability on the part of the Iraqi Army.

o Can the US avoid intervening in the civil war in Syria either against Assad, or in conducting a major air effort to protect the Kurds, moderate rebel groups, and the Sunni civil population? The US has certainly tried to limit its targeting and the size of its air strikes, but so far has not demonstrated that the current level of air and cruise missile strikes has halted Islamic State gains against the Kurds in Syria or in Anbar in Iraq, and the start of such strikes has led to Turkish and Syria Kurdish pressure to intervene at much higher levels and expand the air campaign to secure zones and other efforts designed to remove Assad.

o Can the US and its allies find ways of dealing with the steadily growing humanitarian crises in Syria and Iraq? Strategic goals are of critical importance, but so are ethnics and morality.

These questions have become more, not less, important over the last few months. Two months into the air campaign, it has had some effect, but seems to be doing too little, too slowly, failing to have the necessary impact in Iraq, and drifting towards major mission creep in Syria. Each of the major risks that it is intended to address remains as serious or more serious than when the air campaign began, and the creation of a US, Arab, European alliance has only had marginal impact.

A new analysis by the Burke Chair at CSIS compares the level of effort in the air war against the Islamic State with the air wars in liberating Kuwait in 1991, Kosovo in 1999, invading Iraq in 2003-2011, and Afghanistan in 2001-2014. This analysis looks at the numbers and trends in each conflict, and strongly suggests that the present effort is too small and too slow to achieve its desired result and may fail to address any of the questions and risks outlines above and in the report.
This analysis is entitled The Air War Against the Islamic State: The Need for An “Adequacy of Resources,” and is available on the CSIS web site at http://csis.org/files/publication/The Air War Against the Islamic State.pdf

No comments: