Dan Coats: U.S. lacks effective strategy for countering ISIS
U.S. military resources are being squandered, he says
Editor’s Note: Sen. Dan Coats, an Indiana Republican, is a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. The views expressed are his own.
The burning alive of Jordanian pilot Moath al-Kasasbeh is yet another reminder that ISIS is intent on testing the utter limits of evil and depravity. But even as our eyes are drawn to the horrors being committed overseas, concern is growing in Washington that the Obama administration’s strategy for defeating ISIS is falling short.
Three retired senior military commanders – with 12 stars between them – recently came before the Senate Armed Services Committee to give their assessment of the defense and security challenges facing our country. With their uniforms put away, they were free to speak their minds. And all three lamented the confused, directionless wandering that constitutes the current national security strategy of the Obama administration.
The three were especially disturbed by the conduct of military operations that have no clear objectives nor the defined means of achieving them. Gen. James Mattis, a former commander of the U.S. Central Command, for example, called for us to “come out of our reactive crouch and take a firm strategic stance in defense of our values.”
Gen. Jack Keane, former vice chief of staff of the Army, for his part referred in particular to our inadequate and disjointed efforts against ISIS saying, “We are reduced to a very piecemeal effort.” He noted that our airstrikes against ISIS targets were supporting “unproven” local ground forces, which would “certainly guarantee that we will be incrementally engaged with one radical group after another with no end in sight.”
All Americans should share their concern.
On the very day these commanders testified, their views ironically were validated by one of the few American successes in recent months: the reported successful defense of the Kurdish town of Kobani on the Syrian/Turkish border.
The irony is that this town – which had little or nothing to do with the vast challenge to our interests posed by either ISIS or Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s murderous regime, and yet still consumed 70% of the airstrikes in our struggle against ISIS over the past months – has been trumpeted as a key victory by the Obama administration.
In reality, control of Kobani was contested by a confused array of combatants – including a designated terrorist organization, the PKK, or Kurdistan Workers Party, fighting on the coalition side against ISIS. Meanwhile, U.S. airstrikes are only likely to help the forces of the brutal al-Assad regime, which also is battling ISIS.
This is a collapsing strategy grasping at reeds.
U.S. military resources are being squandered without clear purpose or goal. We are indeed “incrementally engaged with one radical group after another with no end in sight.” There is an obvious disjoint between the administration’s joy at this modest success, and the lack of real progress against the enemy elsewhere.
Despite President Barack Obama’s claim in his State of the Union address or the customary boasts of Secretary of State John Kerry in London two days later, most credible reports show that ISIS is growing stronger in Syria. This is especially true in its Syrian strongholds.
We have recently learned that an estimated 20,000 foreign fighters have gone to Syria and Iraq to fight with ISIS, an estimated increase of 5,000 in the past three months. The numbers very well could be much larger. In the meantime, the Obama administration’s plan to identify, vet, train and deploy a total of 5,000 anti-ISIS fighters – two years from now – has gone absolutely nowhere. And even if such forces materialize, when they do arrive on future battlefield perhaps, they may have only limited defensive roles, according to the Pentagon.
With all this in mind, who could possibly see the President’s response to the mortal threat posed by ISIS as anything but a flat-out denial of the truth? This is simply not how our country should be responding to such threats to our interests and security.
Last year, Obama laid out the goal of defeating ISIS, but he still has not put forward a comprehensive strategy to accomplish this goal. It is paramount that he does so.
Such a strategy must include the cooperation and support of moderate Muslim nations. As Keane said Sunday, “Until we bring the countries that are involved and also those that have interest together and put together an alliance and establish a strategy, we’re not going to be able to push effectively against (ISIS).”
After years of watching this sickening spiral of foreign policy failures, we desperately need improved vision, a stiffer backbone, wisdom and leadership. Another two years of America’s growing impotence and irrelevance is a frightening prospect.