Airstrikes against the Islamic State may not be enough to prevent their capture of more land despite being cornered.
Recent airstrikes against the radical Islamic jihadists of the Islamic State have not prevented their capture of Kobani, a town near the Turkish-Syrian border. The move represents the culmination of a sweeping land grab by the Islamic fighters as they move westward in Syria from their self-declared capital in Raqqa.
For two weeks the U.S. military has led airstrikes against ISIS strongholds in Iraq and Syria. Reports from the ground have indicated the air strikes have effectively destroyed enemy targets including weapons facilities. ISIS remains a threat, however, because of its use of IED’s and roadside bombs to push onward.
As a preventive measure, Turkey has closed its land border with Syria. Refugees, which had been pouring into Turkey by the hundreds of thousands, are now stuck in Syria against their will. With the border to Turkey closed ISIS has no choice but to move south and continue their capture of Syrian land or retreat underground.
Pushing closer to Damascus will bring another challenge as Bashar al-Assad and his loyal armies of Alawites contest the territory. Though ISIS has been bold in its acquisition of land they may hesitate before taking on the Alawites as the latter have been successful at withholding the onslaught of rebel groups during Syria’s bloody two-year civil war.
In an ironic turn of events Bashar al-Assad’s army has become an asset in the fight against ISIS. ISIS is cornered with Turkey to the West and the Alawites to the south. The airstrikes have proved effective at slowing their progress, however, more is needed from Kurdish ground forces to annihilate the ISIS threat once and for all before ISIS initiates diplomatic leverage with Damascus, which has been made more difficult with the destruction of ISIS facilities.
According to Idriss Nassan, a Kurdish official in Kobani, “When I talk to people here in Kobani, they thank the international community, and the United States, they thank the countries who are striking the ISIS. But everyone believes it is not enough…(the) international community cannot defeat ISIS by just hitting them from the sky. They have to help the people who are fighting — the YPG, the (rebel) Free Syrian Army who are here on the ground.”
President Obama has been reticent to send U.S. ground forces and risk more U.S. lives, but in many respects it is the absence of U.S. forces there that has created the milieu for radical Islam. It would be foolish now to send U.S. troops after taking a diplomatic stand, as that would be justifying the threat of ISIS to the international community. Obama should continue convincing neighboring nations that ISIS is the enemy with the hope that in the long run the Middle East can become its own biggest supporter. Kurdish officials like Idriss Nassan may have a daunting task ahead of them trying to put ISIS away, but it is their best interest, and the international community will be watching.