By Rajiv Chandrasekaran September 10
President Obama’s strategy to beat back Islamic State militants spread across Iraq and Syria will depend on far more than U.S. bombs and missiles hitting their intended targets.
In Iraq, dissolved elements of the army will have to regroup and fight with conviction. Political leaders will have to reach compromises on the allocation of power and money in ways that have eluded them for years. Disenfranchised Sunni tribesmen will have to muster the will to join the government’s battle. European and Arab allies will have to hang together, Washington will have to tolerate the resurgence of Iranian-backed Shiite militias it once fought, and U.S. commanders will have to orchestrate an air war without ground-level guidance from American combat forces.
“Harder than anything we’ve tried to do thus far in Iraq or Afghanistan” is how one U.S. general involved in war planning described the challenges ahead on one side of the border that splits the so-called Islamic State.
But defeating the group in neighboring Syria will be even more difficult, according to U.S. military and diplomatic officials. The strategy imagines weakening the Islamic State without indirectly strengthening the ruthless government led by Bashar al-Assad or a rival network of al-Qaeda affiliated rebels — while simultaneously trying to build up a moderate Syrian opposition.
All that “makes Iraq seem easy,” the general said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to share views on policy. “This is the most complex problem we’ve faced since 9/11. We don’t have a precedent for this.”
Tracking the Islamic State View Graphic
The Syria side of the campaign remains a work in progress at the Pentagon, CIA and White House. The development of an operational plan is further complicated by a lack of intelligence — U.S. drones have not been flying over Islamic State-controlled parts of the country for long — and the absence of allied local forces that can leverage U.S. airstrikes into territorial gains.
The consequence will be a military campaign unlike the opening days of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, when tens of thousands of U.S. troops charged into the country and toppled Saddam Hussein’s government in three weeks. Nor will it resemble the troop surges in Baghdad and southern Afghanistan, when American forces sought to counter militants by protecting the civilian population. Closer analogues, Obama said Wednesday night, are the counterterrorism campaigns the U.S. waged in Yemen and Somalia, in which the United States has relied on drone strikes and the occasional Special Operations raid to kill or capture high-level targets, but placed no American boots on the ground for extended periods. Day-to-day fighting has been left to Yemeni and Somali soldiers.
Read More: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/countering-islamic-state-will-be-hard-in-iraq-and-harder-in-syria-officials-say/2014/09/10/de74d448-3943-11e4-9c9f-ebb47272e40e_story.html