The ‘Incomplete’ Strategy Against ISIS Pete Souza, The White House

The ‘Incomplete’ Strategy Against ISIS

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On Monday, President Obama acknowledged the shortcomings of the international coalition’s effort in combating the terrorist group in an address at the G7 summit in Germany.

“We don’t yet have a complete strategy because it requires commitments on part of the Iraqis as well.”

At the onset of the coalition’s effort, John Allen, the special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, also called ISIS, outlined the coalition’s plan for combating the terrorist group in an October 2014 Press Briefing, stating:

“…the five lines of effort to this point: supporting military operations and training; stopping foreign fighters; cutting off access to financing; humanitarian relief; and de-legitimizing ISIL and degrading its messaging.”

While the five lines remain in place as the framework to combat Daesh (the Arabic name for the terrorist group), the plan’s limited success in curbing the influence and advancements of the group has cast doubt on the coalition’s ability to motivate the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) against Daesh.

With recruits arriving daily from around the world, an effective social media campaign which flaunts the group’s horrific actions, and territorial advances which recently saw the addition of Anbar Province in Iraq, Daesh continues to expand its influence within the region. Daesh’s recent successes, specifically in Anbar province, have exposed the weaknesses present within the ISF’s ranks.

Yesterday, the Obama administration authorized the deployment of an additional 450 advising and training personnel to Iraq as well as establishing a new military base in Anbar Province; signaling a renewed effort by the White House to solidify a strategy in Iraq against Daesh. One US official stated that the additional personnel will be focused on engaging and training Sunni tribal fighters alongside the Iraqi Army; to try and “get the right training to the right folks,” as well as integrate Sunni soldiers into the predominantly Shiite Iraqi Army. The deployment will bring the total number of US personnel in Iraq to over 3,500.

The effort to train and recruit additional troops is a step aimed at supporting the front against Daesh, but has thus far proven to be limited in its success. Although the training of the ISF is a necessary step in the fight against Daesh, a more comprehensive regional strategy that places more responsibility on Iraq’s Arab neighbors will be crucial for ultimate success. Even with this additional support, the fight to eradicate Daesh will not be quick; with State Department spokesman Navy Rear Admiral John Kirby estimating that the eradication of Daesh will take three to five years.

In addition to the current military and economic support, the US-led coalition must form a strategy based on cooperation between regional actors. Paul Hamill, a Senior Adjunct Fellow at ASP, asserts that Daesh needs an Arab solution.

With the United States scrambling to find a complete strategy against Daesh, it needs to recognize the importance of regional actors and must support an Arab solution for the eradication of the extremist group. Sustained and even increased training will prove insufficient in transforming the ISF into a military power capable of defeating Daesh unilaterally. Even though there is a military role for Arab countries to play, the crucial factor is political, and these countries must have an understanding of the politics of Iraq in order to mount an effective campaign that doesn’t encourage the birth of yet another violent movement.