An American soldier was killed this week during a successful mission to rescue hostages held by the terrorist caliphate called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (also referred to as Islamic State, ISIS, ISIL, IS, Daesh and D’aesh). The death marks the first of a U.S. soldier fighting ISIS, and is the first U.S. combat fatality in Iraq since 2011.
Please pause for a moment of silence for this brave soldier and offer a prayer, or moment of reflection, in his honor and in support of his loved ones….
The operation targeted an Islamic State prison near the town of Hawija, Iraq, and led to the rescue of 69 hostages, the death of 20 Islamic militants, capture of six, and destruction of the prison. Hostages included members of the Kurdish peshmerga fighters, Iraqi soldiers and about six ISIS fighters accused of being traitors to the caliphate. Unconfirmed reports claim that ISIS had been planning a mass execution of the hostages for the next day. No Americans or other westerners are known to have been among the hostages.
Along with marking the first U.S. military casualty in the fight against ISIS, the operation marks the first significant instance of the U.S. using ground troops against the terrorist organization. In fact, it pretty much marks the first significant use of any ground troops other than those from Syria and Iraq. This despite the fact that the U.S. is leading a coalition of more than 65 countries in the fight against ISIS.
This coalition was officially formed on Sept. 10, 2014, with a pronouncement from President Obama that: “Our objective is clear: We will degrade and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy.”
Well, this year-old-plus “comprehensive and sustained” strategy thus far hasn’t done much, if any, degrading or destroying, and pretty much consists of daily bombing runs and sporadic “targeted” drone strikes. Six coalition members seem to be providing the aircraft and pilots, and we guess the other 60 or so coalition partners are paying for the fuel and bombs.
But now that the coalition has successfully struck Islamic State on the ground, shouldn’t it hit them again? And hit them hard?
Well, don’t hold your breath because it’s probably not going to happen due to a lack of political will and resolve. The more likely scenario is that this week’s use of ground troops and the resultant casualty will lead to congressional hearings and probably the first nascent political whimperings of “bring our boys home.” And other coalition members will undoubtedly further “resolve” not to let any of their boys become casualties.
And that’s sad because if each of the coalition countries were to offer up 1,000 top-line troops and a tank each, it could create enough of an army to degrade and destroy ISIS to the point where the survivors would be begging for forgiveness at the gates of Damascus within a week or so.
And yes, we know such an army is a pipe-dream and that in the real world its operation would be fraught with difficulties and challenges. We’re just trying to point out that ISIS as an army is truly not all that formidable as a fighting force. And that is because it’s not an army–it’s a large gang of thugs who rape, pillage, steal, and terrorize the population by constantly executing unarmed hostages and prisoners in a wide variety of gruesome ways.
Islamic State is a bully, and compared to the “good guys” currently facing it down with air power, a weak one. But the bully is not going to stop his thuggish ways until the good guys hit him hard and keep hitting him when he goes down (please see Hash-It-Out Oct. 16 blog: “The Boko Haram Bully Needs a Beating, But….”).
Air power alone is not going to do it. In fact, air power isn’t even bloodying Islamic State’s nose. Nope, the only way to take down this bully is with boots on the ground. And you know what? Despite political lack of resolve and fears of casualties back in the homeland, the “boots” themselves would probably love to get in on the action. We’d bet that if the various coalition partners asked their soldiers if they were willing to voluntarily engage ISIS in ground fighting, nine out of 10 would respond, “Hell Yeah!” (or perhaps “Boo-Yah!”).
So, what do you think? Is it time to engage Islamic State up close and personal with ground troops? Hash It Out!