Losses mount in half-baked war against Islamic State

Losses mount in half-baked war against Islamic State

May 21 at 12:30 PM

Losses mount in half-baked war against Islamic StateThe Post reports: “Concerns for one of the Middle East’s most renowned archaeological sites deepened Thursday after Islamic State militants swept into the historic Syrian city Palmyra, urging residents over mosque loudspeakers to turn in regime collaborators and army soldiers. The capture of Palmyra, about 130 miles northeast of Damascus, marks the Islamic State’s second significant strategic gain in the past week following the fall of the Iraqi city of Ramadi west of Baghdad.” Even for this administration it is becoming increasingly ludicrous to insist the war against the Islamic state is going well.

We could hardly expect anything different. The president has adopted an approach not designed to achieve victory. Anthony Cordesman explains:

As is the case with Afghanistan and earlier with Yemen, the administration has failed to provide any honest transparency about the impact of the limits to its present strategy, the train and assist mission, the real world course of the fighting, and the risks and cost benefits of the present form of U.S. military intervention. There have been no substantive plans, risk assessments, or progress reporting – just spin, positive claims and vacuous reports like that of the lead inspector general over the conflict, which totally failed to say anything meaningful about the progress of the war.

It is all too clear that the present U.S. air and train and assist campaigns are not enough. What is totally unclear is that administration has a viable strategy, that the risks of becoming involved in Iraq’s deep divisions and the Syrian civil war can be overcome, and that the administration is prepared to be honest in presenting the cost-benefits and risks to either the American people or the Congress.

The loss of Palmyra is especially troubling. “The fall of Palmyra to IS, just days after the fall of Ramadi, is another body blow to the administration’s claims that its efforts to defeat the jihadi group were successful,” says Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “The fall of Palmyra is also significant from a financial perspective. IS needs to keep conquering territory in order to pillage, plunder and tax. And because of the many priceless antiquities there, it is likely that IS will be able to profit handsomely from the smuggling of these artifacts.”

Not everyone is in denial. House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.), in a statement Wednesday said, “How is it that ISIS is seizing territory on two fronts, ten months after U.S. air strikes began? It’s dreadfully obvious that we aren’t working well enough to defeat ISIS and protect the people of Palmyra and its precious relics of our shared history.” And Gen. (Ret.) Jack Keane, one of the architects of the Iraqi surge, bluntly testified, “The conceptual plan is conceptionally flawed. . . And as such we are not only failing but we are losing this war.”

Moreover, as we learn more about the loss of Ramadi it becomes clear this was no fluke caused by a “sandstorm” that gave cover to Islamic state forces, as the administration initially claimed. Foreign Policy magazine’s daily bulletin informs us:

It was a unique and fascinating narrative. Literally the fog of war. But now another official tells us it didn’t happen.

Briefing reporters at the Pentagon on Wednesday, Central Command spokesman Col. Patrick Ryder abruptly changed course on that story, saying that there was only “minor dust and haze,” over the weekend in Ramadi that had “zero impact,” on coalition air operations.

In fact, stats released by the U.S. military show that the coalition launched 15 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in and around Ramadi on May 16 and 17 during the heaviest of the fighting, with no mention of sandstorms curtailing those operations.

The degree to which the administration will go to downplay and dissemble reminds us that the White House is obsessed with winning news cycles and not the war. Congress should do its job, using oversight hearings and the bully pulpit to demand a viable war plan. And the 2016 contenders each have an obligation to explain how they’d turn things around. Or does Hillary Clinton think things are going swimmingly?