Boasting about killing some 250 Islamic State of Iraq and Syria [ISIS] terrorists just south of liberated Fallujah, the Defense Department touted its progress confronting the world’s most lethal terror group. Unlike the late Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda terror group, ISIS seized some 30% of Iraq and Syrian territory in an unprecedented blitzkireg in the Middle East. Declaring a caliphate June 29, 2014, only two weeks after sacking Mosul June 14, 2014, ISIS caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghadi had all he needed for a powerful global recruitment campaign, showing concrete proof of his army’s superiority. Capitalizing on the Saudi proxy war in Syria, al-Baghdadi went on to capture Raqqa, Syria July 25, 2014, becoming the caliphate’s headquarters. Capturing Mosul and Raqqa gave ISIS legitimacy, serving as the best recruiting tool for wayward youth from failed states looking for a future.
Letting ISIS seize and hold onto 30% of Iraq and Syria proved the most powerful recruiting tool, lending instant credibility to the renegade Islamic terror group. Saddam’s Huseein’s exiled former Republican guards, led by 74-year-old redhead Izzat Ibrahim al_Douri, once regional Director of Iraq’s Baath Party, led ISIS 2014 blitzkrieg capturing some 30% of sovereign Iraq and Syrian territory. Whatever today’s body-count in successful U.S. air strikes, it doesn’t change ISIS terror operations that massacred 42 travelers June 28 at Turkey’s Ataturk Airport. While killing 250 ISIS terrorists is a step in the right direction, it doesn’t get coalition forces one step closer to retaking oil-rich Mosul and Raqqa. Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi promised Jan. 22 to retake oil-rich Mosul by year’s end. Whether that happens or not, ISIS must be denied safe havens in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere.
President Barack Obama has been reluctant to put U.S. boots on the ground, preferring to keep a force of 5,500 as advisors, training Iraqi forces. While al-Abadi successfully captured Fallujah June 18, he’s a long way from retaking Mosul. Relying heavily on the beleaguered Iraqi military and Kurdish Protection Units [YPG] to prepare for the battle of Mosul, both need all the help they can get from the U.S. Until the ISIS massacre at the Ataturk Airport, 62-year-old Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had been shelling YPG forces along the Turkish-Syrian border. Considered the main U.S.-backed surrogate fighting force in Syria, the YPG looks to liberate Mosul to reinstate Kurdish control. Like Erdogan, al-Abadi shows no interest in ceding any territory to the Kurds, now or in the future. When Mosul falls, al-Abadi wants all the oil-wealth returned to Iraq.
Only by retaking Mosul and Raqqa, denying ISIS safe havens in Iraq and Syria, can the U.S. or the European Union expect to reduce terrorist attacks. Tuesday’s ISIS attack on the Ataturk Airport gives Erdogan a wake-up call to stop playing both sides with ISIS. Calling ISIS’s attacks on the Turkish airport “depravity,” CIA Director John Brennen warned of more terrorist attacks in Europe and the U.S. “We’ve made, I think, some significant progress, along with our coalition partners, in Syria and Iraq, where most the ISIS members are residing right now,” said Brennen, agreeing that the coalition must deny ISIS safe havens. “But ISIS’ ability to continue to propagate its narrative, as well as to incite and carry out of these attacks—I think we still have a ways to go before we’re able to say that we have made some significant progress against them,” said Brennen, admitting there’s more work to do.
Obama’s decision to put a toe in the water in both Iraq and Syria left ISIS consolidating its power, leading to recent terror attacks in the U.S., Europe and Turkey. Retaking Mosul and Raqqa would scatter ISIS much like former President George W. Bush scattered Osama bin Laden with Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan Oct. 7, 2001. Reporting body-counts make good headlines but, as Brennen points out, doesn’t change ISIS’s capacity to organize and plan terror attacks. Whatever the recent battlefield victories, ISIS has a way of battling back, recently retaking Bukamal’s airport and border crossing into Iraq from coalition forces and the New Syrian Army. Losing Bukamal was a setback for U.S.-backed coalition forces, surrendering more territory and military equipment to ISIS. Only by committing more advisors and grounds troops in Syria, can the U.S. make progress.
Touting body-counts only goes so far in convincing the enemy that they’re losing the battle. ISIS’s June 28 massacre at the Ataturk Airport should serve as a wake-up call to Erdogan that he must do more than sit-on-the-fence to battle ISIS. With Russian President Vladimir Putin backing al-Assad, U.N. peace talks in Geneva have gone nowhere. Saudi Arabia has told U.N. Syrian Peace Envoy Staffan de Mistura in Geneva that there’ll be no peace in Syria until al-Assad goes. Since that won’t happen anytime soon, it’s time to put the Saudi’s on notice that the proxy war against al-Assad must end. Adding to the June 23 Brexit vote and now threatening to break-up the European Union, the Saudi-funded Syrian proxy war must stop. U.S. officials need to stop battling Russia and Iran and focus on how best to defeat ISIS before the next terror attack on U.S. or EU soil.