When receiving news of our battle with ISIS in the Middle East does it feel like we really are at war? It seems more like a video game played in the background of a party. You may notice the action but it has nothing to do with you. I’d say the main reason for this is because our part of the war is mostly money and machinery, with only a few flesh and blood Americans risking their lives, and no announced casualties for us. There is something surreal about it all, but enough of that mental meandering for now.
Let’s look at a couple of promising recent developments on the ground.
Ultimately destroying ISIS means developing some kind of political solution in Syria, their home base, and that situation seems best described as “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma”, to borrow a few choice words from Winston Churchill aimed at Stalinist Russia decades ago. As such, we’ll leave that issue for a later time.
But recent news suggests our alliance is at least degrading ISIS in Kobani in Syria and in a few areas of Iraq. Situated next to Turkey and with most of its residents evacuated, Kobani has been turned into mostly rubble by the fighting of the past couple of months.
During that time the city has seemed constantly about to fall to ISIS, but the combination of continued U. S. air strikes, some 270 of them, and the addition of about 150 Kurdish troops, which Turkey finally let cross their land to get there, seems to have ISIS stymied and actually losing ground slowly, with an estimated 600 of their fighters killed.
In a Huf Post article, according to John Allen, the U.S. envoy for the international coalition fighting the Islamic State militants, losing Kobani would be a blow to the ISIS image of invincibility, so they keep massing their forces there providing good targets for our air strikes.
Also, Iraqi forces have regained a couple of towns taken by ISIS last summer while they are also making progress in retaking Ramadi. According to CNN, “The battle for control of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, is shifting in favor of Iraqi and tribal forces fighting ISIS militants, Iraqi officials said Monday.”
While the article does not expand on the degree of Sunni tribal support, it is welcome news to find any at all as turning Sunni tribes against ISIS Sunni fanatics is a key part of our strategy to degrade them. The failure of the central government in Bagdad to be inclusive of these tribes is what has paved the ground for the easy ISIS advances. Separating those Sunni tribes from ISIS is essential. Otherwise, fighting ISIS appears an attack on Sunnis in general, making us seem allied with Shiites as opposed to Sunnis in that age old conflict that contributes so much to what is happening today.
But that’s another thorny issue best postponed to later as well. Let’s be thankful that ISIS seems in check for the moment, even though there’s a long winding road ahead to check mate them.