Sunday, May 21, 2017

New US plan to annihilate ISIS focuses on surrounding and killing ISIS fighters.

Map of control for Iraq and Syria. DW/Institute for the Study of War.

A new US plan to destroy ISIS is being put into effect and it focuses on surrounding and killing the militants. Deustch Welle. Called an "annihilation plan", the main objective will be to prevent ISIS fighters from escaping their strongholds as they fall. In the past, when major ISIS held cities fell, US allied forces allowed them to escape into the countryside. Now, we will prevent them from fleeing with the major goal being to prevent foreign fighters returning to their home countries. ISIS has lost thousands of fighters in the past couple of years, but as many as 14,000 remain in Iraq and Syria. Critics say that this plan may result in further civilian casualties and displacement. 

My Comment:
With the focus on the US media being the fake news Russia scandal, it is often useful to look at foreign outlets to get a handle on what is actually going on in the world today. I had attempted to find a US media source on this new plan, or the presidents trip to Saudi Arabia and all I got were article after article that was just bashing Trump on the firing of FBI Director Jim Comey, an event that happened two weeks ago already. There was little substantive analysis of either issue. It just goes to show how much our media is letting us down right now. 

I think the US media should take a page from Deutch Welle, the German state media company. Though the article was critical of this new plan, they didn't senselessly bash the president on completely unrelated issues, like the Jim Comey firing. Instead they stated the Pentagon's case and then stated the case of critics. I tend to disagree with them, but it is refreshing to read an article on US policy that isn't simply bashing President Trump. If US media wrote more articles like the Deustch Welle one linked to here they could regain at least some of their lost credibility. 

As for the plan itself, I like it quite a bit. I never understood the tendency to let ISIS fighters escape from major battles. Often, those same fighters would later be deployed in new offensives or would show up in later defensive battles. That makes those battles worse and will prolong the length of the war. I truly think that ISIS deserves only two options: unconditional surrender or complete destruction. 

The article argues that this plan will likely result in more civilian casualties. I am willing to grant that because many of the times we let ISIS escape, it was for humanitarian reasons. But that doesn't mean I oppose this plan. I have long argued that saving a few hundred civilians isn't worth the loss of time and momentum most of the time. It's often better to simply fight as quickly and effectively as possible in order to shorten the course of the war. Ending the war in victory will obviously stop the huge number of civilian and military casualties and should be the primary goal in every war we fight. 

That doesn't mean we shouldn't consider civilian casualties at all though. I do agree that reducing the amount of lives lost is a noble and desirable goal. It just can't be the number one priority and often it is better on utilitarian grounds to let a few civilians die now in order to save many more in the future. It should always be a very important secondary objective, but a secondary objective first.  

In the case of the Syrian and Iraqi wars, allowing ISIS fighters to escape will cause many deaths down the road. The great fear is that many of ISIS's foreign fighters will be able to escape as the last strongholds in Iraq and Syria fold. Those fighters could return to their home countries and wreak havoc. Since Europe is already a war zone with frequent and deadly terror attacks, allowing them to escape could make an already untenable situation even worse. We must do everything in our power to make sure that the wave of terror in Europe doesn't get worse than it already is, or we may face a larger regional war.   

It's not only Europe that we have to worry about though. If we allow any fighters to escape they can either flee to other countries that ISIS controls territory in, such as Egypt, Afghanistan, Libya and Nigeria, or escape to the countryside to regroup and reform. Remember, this is what happened with ISIS's predecessor group, al-Qaeda in Iraq. After being largely defeated by President George Bush's surge, al-Qaeda waited until the US withdrew troops and Syria descended into chaos to rise from the ashes as the two most dangerous terror groups in the middle east right now, al-Nusra and ISIS. We can't let either result happen again. 

I do think that the article has a point though. If this plan has a weakness it's that we have to rely on the Kurds to win our battles for us. Doing so could inflame sectarian tensions between the Kurds and the Sunni Muslims that make up the population centers that ISIS controls. Remember, one of the major reasons why ISIS was able to take Mosul and western Iraq was because there was so much distrust between the Sunni locals and the Iraqi government, made up of mostly Shiite Muslims. The same scenario could play out in Syria, with the added headache of Turkey's strong objections to the Kurdish forces very existence. 

Still, despite the potential problems down the road, the main goal has to be the defeat of ISIS. If the Kurds, Turks and Sunni Muslims can't get along after ISIS is defeated, that's really not our problem anymore, as long as there aren't any terror groups in Syria willing to target us. The important thing is that ISIS doesn't escape to sow chaos across Europe or rise from the ashes to threaten the Middle East in a decade or so. I think that this plan to surround and utterly destroy ISIS fighters is the last, best, chance of doing so. It might not be the perfect option, but it's the best one we have. Let's all hope that it works out. 

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