Four Reasons the U.S. Will Be Much Tougher With ISIS
Policy + Politics

Four Reasons the U.S. Will Be Much Tougher With ISIS

When lawmakers return for a post-election lame duck session of Congress next month, they shouldn’t be surprised to see heightened security at the Capitol. 

A home-grown terrorist gunman’s killing of a solider and assault on the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa on Wednesday strongly suggests that the U.S. Capitol could be the next target of Middle East jihadist terrorists or their sympathizers living in this country. 

One of the most important things Congress will have to do after the election will be to ratify a new Defense Department budget and provide specific authorization to President Obama to continue to wage air strikes and other military action against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Congress is likely to pass a $1 trillion omnibus spending bill, including about $550 billion to operate the Pentagon and nearly $60 billion for overseas warfare in the Middle East. 

Related: The Merger of ISIS and al-Qaeda Could Cripple the Civilized World    

Many Republicans and Democrats are likely to formally embrace the broad outlines of President Obama’s plan to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic terrorists by mounting strategic airstrikes against ISIS forces and emplacements and training and arming friendly “moderate” Syrian rebels to eventually go after ISIS forces on the ground. 

However, while lawmakers have been away campaigning for the past month, developments  unfolding on the ground in Iraq and Syria strongly suggest that lawmakers and the Obama administration may be kidding themselves if they think the current plan of the president’s and U.S. allies will be enough to drive out or destroy the ISIS scourge. 

Obama has repeatedly cautioned that it will take years for the U.S. and its allies to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS. Yet based on fast-moving developments in recent weeks, the U.S. and its European and Middle Eastern allies may not have all that much time to act to prevent ISIS from consolidating and locking in the fruits of its military reign of terror, territorial grabs, and unthinkable massacres and enslavement of Iraqis and Syrians.

Air Strikes Against ISIL

Tepid military action or half measures will not work in this case, and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) was probably on the right track when he said that Obama’s pledge not to deploy combat troops to Iraq and Syria was unrealistic and that eventually the U.S. would have to put “boots on the ground.” 

Here are the latest bone chilling developments that lawmakers and the administration should consider before locking in their current strategy: 

  • ISIS extremists have begun using chemical weapons -- probably chlorine gas -- against Iraqi forces. The Washington Post reported on Friday that 11 Iraqi police officers were rushed to a government hospital last month, 50 miles north of Baghdad, after experiencing dizziness, vomiting and shortness of breath. The diagnosis was poisoning by chlorine gas, and the suspected perpetrators were ISIS extremists. The chlorine attack was the first reported use of chemical weapons on the battlefield since ISIS seized large tracts of land this summer that include a  long-abandoned chemical weapons plant once operated by the regime of Saddam Hussein. 

There is no way of assessing the full range of chemical weapons now available to ISIS forces. However, some chemical weapons experts and government officials told The Post that the 2,500 degraded rockets filled with nerve agents that remain there are “unlikely to be fit for use.” 

  • ISIS has begun laying improvised explosives along major highways north of Baghdad and elsewhere to protect their gains of land and oil fields. Without U.S. and allied troops deployed on the ground, it may be impossible to dislodge this extremist occupying force.

For the past 18 months, many U.S. officials and military analysts have speculated that ISIS would have trouble retaining control of the huge swaths of land they were claiming in northern Iraq and Syria as part of their crusade to build a new Islamic state or caliphate. Presumably, the allies could eventually win back much of this territory through the combination of U.S. air strikes and assaults against ISIS by Kurdish and Iraqi forces on the ground.

Related: Boehner Says Defeating ISIS Means Using Ground Troops

However, another report by The Washington Post yesterday revealed that ISIS has been laying improvised explosives or land mines along a major highway north of Baghdad as a deterrent to counterattacks. U.S. officials have conceded that Iraqi government forces have had trouble clearing explosives and advancing into contested areas surrounding the strategic Baiji oil refinery. The challenge will be magnified over the coming year as allied forces will try to break ISIS’s hold on vast stretches of territory. 

  • ISIS will continue to commit ruthless massacres of tens of thousands of innocent people unless they’re stopped. Human rights groups have voiced alarm over a surge in sectarian violence in Iraq, including beheadings and executions of Shiite religious leaders, civilians and captured security forces. ISIS has seized villages, terrorized and killed members of the Yazidi sect in what some view as a drive to exterminate this Iraq minority. Shiite villagers in northern Iraq have described massacres by ISIS forces. 

More than 5,500 people have been killed in Iraq alone since ISIS began its offense in June, according to a United Nations reported early this month. The New York Times reports of “the extremists’ campaign of physical and sexual violence against women and children, with accounts of women being captured and sold as sex slaves to Islamic State recruits, and children being used as soldiers.”

Related: The New U.S. Price Tag for the War Against ISIS: $40 Billion a Year    

  • U.S. air strikes against ISIS have helped Kurdish fighters, but haven’t thwarted ISIS forces. The total number of U.S. and allied sorties over Iraq and Syria reached 6,600 this week, including a strike south of Baiji to try to assist Iraqi troops. But U.S. officials told reporters that while the airstrikes have helped the Iraqi army in some small, localized ways to recapture land held by ISIS, there are limits to what can be accomplished from the air.  Indeed, building up a large scale offensive by the poorly managed and trained Iraqi army “will require long-term support to Iraqi forces,” according to the Post, “including reforms to Iraq’s security forces and ministries.” 

In late September, an ISIS fighter in Syria dismissed the U.S. airstrikes as “trivial at best,” according to CNN. “We've been ready for this for some time," the fighter, identified as Abu Talha, said in an exclusive interview. "We know that our bases are known because they're tracking us with radars and satellites, so we had backup locations." 

The ISIS fighter taunted the U.S.-led coalition that had been pummeling ISIS targets in Syria, including attacks on mobile oil refineries and vehicles. "They thought they knew everything,” he said. “But thank God, they don't know anything. And God willing, we will defeat the infidels." 

However, U.S. airstrikes have helped Kurdish fighters under siege by ISIS in the Syrian city of Kobani. And there are other examples of how the bombings have occasionally routed the ISIS forces. 

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