Is it time for air strikes on ISIS in Syria?

How can Washington work with Damascus after all of the acrimonious language and threats? The answer is simple

Dr. Theodore Karasik
Dr. Theodore Karasik
Published: Updated:
Read Mode
100% Font Size
8 min read

It is increasingly becoming clear that the U.S. needs to conduct an air campaign in Syria to attack, disable, and destroy the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s assets. ISIS represents an unprecedented threat to not only the countries surrounding the current proto-state but also throughout the world. Left unchecked, ISIS will continue to destabilize, capture territory, and kill everything in its path. The terrorist incubator of ISIS will continue to churn out highly trained, battle hardened killers who can spread chaos and mayhem globally. The time is now to terminate ISIS.

In the recent past, America planned airstrikes on Syria against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in response to Damascus’ purported use of chemical weapons. These airstrikes were to be carried out by partners in a joint effort to force regime change. Although those strikes never occurred, the necessary assets are still in place in the region. Targeting ISIS’ assets—military equipment, oil and gas fields, government centers, and supply chain networks needs to be done now. ISIS will use civilians as human shields: as some say “collateral damage” may be necessary in this particular and, dangerous case.

In Iraq, American airstrikes are providing the necessary “close air support” to Kurdish and Iraqi forces to retake key strategic points such as Mosul Dam, U.S. action in the skies over Syria may not enjoy such support. The Syrian National Coalition urged the international community to “quickly support the Free Syrian Army with weapons and ammunition” so it could “defend its people” around Aleppo. This plea is not what America requires: The United States needs to coordinate with the Syrian government in order to succeed in Syria. Many people will ask: How can Washington work with Damascus after all of the acrimonious language and threats? The answer is simple: ISIS is a threat to both countries and it is time to put aside—for the moment—the dispute for the greater good of the region. Unfortunately, the British are rejecting such a notion of working with Syria.

How can Washington work with Damascus after all of the acrimonious language and threats? The answer is simple

Dr. Theodore Karasik

Such a move by the Obama Administration would play well with Arab audiences. Scoff as you might at this idea but at the end of the day, the Levant’s neighbors are hoping that America will find the way to crawl out of its shell. Arab states see America as weak and irrelevant. If America doesn’t stand up now against ISIS, Arab governments will turn to other countries including Russia for immediate solutions. One should not be surprised that in order to help Assad hit ISIS- an operation that started recently—that the Kremlin along with Tehran will continue to attack the proto-state. The lesser of two evils is to be part of such an operation or what is left of American credibility in the region will hit rock-bottom.

If America attacks ISIS within Syria, some argue that the United States should build a coalition against ISIS that includes regional countries such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Jordan that can contribute air power, similar to what occurred during the air operations over Libya in 2011. That may not happen due to regional politics such as GCC discord and boosting sectarian antagonism and, specifically, because these states do not want to antagonize ISIS fighters who may target them more directly during and after air attacks by America. Currently, these states are upping their homeland security and monitoring those who may be susceptible to ISIS’ recruitment strategies. They want America to work with other European allies in this matter because of their lack of resolve on solving the Syrian issue in the first place.

Stakes are high, timing is critical

When it comes to an air operation in Syria, let alone one in Iraq, which remains an unnamed operation, a lack of clear objectives produces limits to airpower’s role against ISIS. The actions of ISIS differ in five substantial ways from those of combatants engaged in conventional war: “time, civilian-military ‘duality,’ tactics, logistics, and centers of gravity.” These factors underscore the importance of assembling accurate intelligence, and airpower offers an important means of such information gathering. Additionally, reliable intelligence enables an air force to perform its missions effectively with the necessary accuracy in terms of time and place. No planning for any military operation—whether in the air, on land, or at sea—can be successful without exact information concerning the enemy, terrain, and so forth. When American combats terrorism, intelligence increases in importance.

But there are two problems: First, without proper targeting data, air power and its firepower stumble, accomplishing temporary wins; people die; and many resources go to waste. The right information, however, allows us to use less force and effort to conduct decisive attacks against ISIS targets—and suffer fewer casualties in terms of lives and equipment. Second, is how to capture ISIS fighters and their supporters. Once airstrikes commence in Syria, there needs to be an international and regional dragnet to arrest ISIS affiliates before they scatter to the wind to spread revenge attacks. This fact means that America and other countries best reconcile their differences with Syria, Iran and Russia because the United States and Western Europe will need help from Damascus, Tehran, and Moscow in all aspects of an air campaign over Syria.

Clearly, the stakes are high. Timing is critical. The longer there is a delay in U.S. airstrikes the more ISIS will settle into its routine of building its government and economic system over a wider geographical area. More decapitations are likely to occur and there are plenty of hostages—well over 20 journalists held prisoner—who may be paraded in front of cameras and whose decapitation will be disseminated over social media. ISIS is teasing America to act; they want a fight. The use of U.S. airpower needs to not only target ISIS but also Jubhat al Nusra, who, like ISIS, maintains much the same ideology and violent tendencies. America will need to push for a ground presence to assess ISIS’s and Jubhat al-Nusra’s equipment and personnel. Only Syria, Russia, and Tehran can provide any accuracy. The Obama Administration needs to act now to prove its place in the regional disorder in coordination with all vested parties. The alternative disorder—the spread of the caliphate—will create a black hole in regional security that will, like the celestial phenomena, suck all into its vortex.

Dr. Theodore Karasik is the Director of Research and Consultancy at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA) in Dubai, UAE. He is also a Lecturer at University of Wollongong Dubai. Dr. Karasik received his Ph.D in History from the University of California Los Angles.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
Top Content Trending