Failure Is Not Our ISIS Strategy?

Yesterday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry informed anyone who would listen that losing the Syrian City of Kobani to ISIS is not a big deal. According to Kerry, the anti-ISIS coalition strategy is not defined by its failed efforts to save Kobani because the City is not a top priority.


Kobani may not define coalition strategy but it certainly condemns it. The battle to save the City is a microcosm of the coalition master plan in action. U.S. involvement has been limited to airstrikes on ISIS targets, including more than 50 sorties last week alone. Threatened regional partners with boots on the ground are aplenty.


And yet, the coalition, resisting the ISIS siege for nearly one month, is teetering on the brink of defeat. Last week, Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby wrote the City off. In his words, U.S. airstrikes “are not going to save” Kobani. The reason, according to Kirby, is that airstrikes alone cannot stop ISIS.


So, where are the boots on the ground? Kobani sits on the Syrian border with Turkey. The Kurds who inhabit the City are excellent fighters and have been engaged in the struggle against ISIS from the beginning.


But, Turkey, a fickle NATO partner, prefers to see the Kurds lose so their footwear stayed home. Turkish forces even prevented Kurds in Turkey from crossing the border to fight on behalf of civilians trapped in the embattled City.


So far, the Turkish government refuses to let U.S. airstrikes originate from Turkish bases. Meanwhile, the Kurds defending Kobani without ground assistance have been overwhelmed by superior forces.


Kobani stands as a tragic testament to the foolishness of Obama’s steadfast refusal to include U.S. ground troops in his recipe to defeat ISIS. Relying on regional armies is merely wishful thinking. It’s more than the lack of trained, dedicated personnel, which stymie consequential contributions from Syrian rebels and Iraqi security forces.


It is also the political reality of the region, which caused the Kobani downfall. Today, there is also the concern that Iraq will turn to Iran, its ancient enemy, for sustained military aid to defeat ISIS. In fact, the Iranian military already claims credit for keeping Baghdad out of ISIS clutches.


Could there be a worse result of Obama’s policy than making Iraq beholden to Iran?


Maybe one or two. Attacks on the United States would be worse at least in the short run. After that, even the Obama administration would send ground troops to crush the Islamic militants where they live. But, U.S. concessions to Iran to contribute ground-bound fighters to the coalition would be a nightmare with long-term negative outcomes.


That Team Obama would do a deal with the devil for political expediency is not much of a stretch. Without the linchpin of adequate ground forces, we can expect the wheels to fly off the coalition bandwagon as it rolls across the larger region. As a former head of British Armed Forces remarked, “[D]on’t expect a guy in an airplane to be able to seize and hold terrain.”


Kerry did acknowledge yesterday that the impending slaughter of thousands of Kobani citizens, many elderly and unable to escape, is a tragedy. His words must be a great comfort to those who face impending death by the heavy blade of the ISIS juggernaut.


With the City’s fall, ISIS will control a strategic corridor stretching 62 miles between the ISIS capital in Syria to the Turkish border. In light of this truth, Kerry’s characterization of the loss as insignificant can only be described as a surge in political face-saving. That strategy should fail as well.