ISIS gains shatter U.S. foreign policy logic on Syria
The long held hands-off U.S. approach to the conflict just became even more difficult to justify
The major strategic gains made by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group in the recent term - including the seizure of large swathes of Iraqi territory and massive amounts of weaponry - shatters the logic surrounding the United States’ refusal to provide a sufficient amount of advanced arms to the Syrian opposition. The U.S. has long feared that arming the Free Syrian Army (FSA) could lead to the weaponry falling into extremists’ hands. Now, it is even clearer that U.S. inertia has contributed to the creation of a far worse reality.
The ongoing ISIS assault on Mosul and into Tikrit has seen the seizure of several oil fields in the Salahadin province as well as the looting of at least $420 million from a Mosul Bank, and the release of upwards of 3,000 prisoners from the Badousha prison. Meanwhile, at least half a million Iraqi civilians were forced to flee their residences. U.S. trained Iraqi security forces abandoned their positions, apparently outnumbered and easily overpowered by the masked militants. And at time of writing, ISIS spokesman Abu Mohammad al-‘Adnani urged militants to “continue your march as the battle is not yet raging,” vowing to capture Baghdad next.
Supplying the FSA
The notion that the current situation was not an inevitable consequence of the ongoing Syrian conflict and continued U.S. inaction, seems to be an assertion shared only by a minority; nonetheless, the fear of radical jihadists obtaining sophisticated weaponry has remained one of the primary justifications for not supplying the FSA with advanced, lethal arms. Now, with the al-Qaeda offshoot in possession of - ironically - massive amounts of American supplied weapons seized from multiple Iraqi military positions, Washington must immediately reconsider supplying the FSA with the weapons needed to combat ISIS and prevent the rise of a de facto jihadist controlled state spanning from Syria to Iraq. As terrorism expert Charles Lister indicated, “militarily, territorially, financially & practically-speaking, ISIS’ Islamic State is very much nearing genuine realization.”
Notably, if the Iraqi military attempts to recapture Fallujah from ISIS - seized in January of this year - are any indication of their ability to take back comprehensive control of Mosul - the future looks grim.
With newly captured weaponry now flooding into Syria, the long held hands-off U.S. approach to the conflict just became even more difficult to justifyBrooklyn Middleton
With newly captured weaponry now flooding into Syria, the long held hands-off U.S. approach to the conflict just became even more difficult to justify. Meanwhile, ISIS’ major gains highlight Washington’s failure to address the inevitable reality of radical Syrian factions capitalizing on neighboring Iraq’s destabilization and unsecured weaponry - which was only a matter of time. Meanwhile, with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki demanding continued U.S. military arm shipments while also aiding Bashar al-Assad’s regime, the likelihood of an ISIS offensive targeting key Iraqi security positions has consistently increased yet continued to remain unaddressed. As the U.S. mulls sending more military aid to Iraq, solid reassurance must be guaranteed that Iraq will prevent Iran from using Iraqi airspace to ship weapons to the Syrian regime - an unlikely agreement.
Meanwhile, as ISIS continues proving effective at capturing territories and implementing social services for populations - such as in Raqqah, where journalist Liz Sly notes the group recently authorized a new program to maintain the standard of food - domestic support is likely to grow, creating a new quagmire for both the Iraqi military and the FSA in Syria.
Ultimately, the U.S. decision to reject FSA requests for sufficient lethal weaponry in conjunction with Washington’s failure to address the plethora of unsecured weapons and overwhelmed security forces cultivated an environment where entire Iraqi cities were able to be overrun with ISIS militants in just a matter of days. And despite assertions that the ISIS’ grip on territories is tenuous and unsustainable in the long term, the swift weapon transfers from Iraq to Syria still bring forth major security issues - the latest disaster to result from U.S. short-sited foreign policy decisions.
Brooklyn Middleton is an American Political and Security Risk Analyst reporting from Israel. Her work has appeared in Turkish and Israeli publications including The Times of Israel and Hürriyet Daily News. She has previously written about U.S. President Obama's policy in Syria as well as the emerging geopolitical threats Israel faces as it pursues its energy interests in the Eastern Mediterranean. She is currently researching Ayatollah Khomeini’s influence on Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant groups to complete her MA in Middle Eastern Studies. You can follow her on Twitter here: @BklynMiddleton.
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