If Assad is not forced out, ISIS never will be

Kyle Orton writes: it is now of primary importance that the British Government and the U.S.-led anti-Isis coalition as a whole make Assad’s ouster a central feature of their stated political objectives. The defeat of Isis requires the enlistment of Sunni Arab forces, and that can only happen if they are confident that Isis will not be replaced by radical sectarian forces of the Assad regime or Iran, which is in control of the Assad regime and which has deployed tens of thousands of Shi’a jihadists into Syria.

Limiting Iran’s power more broadly in Syria is crucial to defeating Isis. Iran and Isis are symbiotic, feeding off one-another by committing atrocities against the other’s political constituency against which they can claim to be the only protectors. The appearance of the coalition siding with Assad/Iran by only bombing Sunni radicals, while doing nothing as Iran moves tens of thousands of European- and U.S.-designated Shi’ite terrorists into Syria, is deeply damaging, helping Isis to present itself as the guardian of the Sunnis.

Sunni Arab forces are needed to defeat Isis because it is in Sunni Arab areas that Isis has its caliphate. Much propaganda has been spread by Assad, Iran, and Russia that there are no moderate Syrian rebels left, but this is simply untrue. The entire rebellion is at war with Isis and there are about 75,000 moderate rebels whom the coalition could work with, plus a further 25,000 not-so-moderate rebels who are also fighting Isis. (Al-Qaeda and pro-al-Qaeda forces amount to 15,000 at the most.) While the Pentagon’s train-and-equip program failed, as it was bound to do since it was only directed against Isis, and gets a lot of media attention, this ignores the more than 40,000 moderate rebels who have been vetted by the CIA and supplied with lethal weaponry, virtually none of which has gone astray. If the moderate rebels forces had something to fight for — namely the promise of self-rule, protected from Isis and Iran — and were given the appropriate resources they could be mobilized to defeat these two Western enemies. The Sunni Arab tribes also remain astonishingly unengaged, though when the West defeated Isis’s predecessor in Iraq it was exactly by aligning with these tribes to help them provide local security.

Finally, it is necessary not to over-rely on Kurdish forces. The Kurds have proven very adept at protecting Kurdish-majority zones from Isis, but many commentators have extended this fact to declare that the Kurds are our only reliable ally in Syria. Leaving aside the political authoritarianism and ethnic engineering of the PYD, the party in control of the Syrian Kurdish armed units, the PYD has been able to clear Isis from less than one province in a year with the backing of Coalition airstrikes. In early 2014, the rebellion, without any air support, expelled Isis from positions in seven provinces, two of which Isis remains wholly absent from and two of which Isis is still largely absent from. Organically rooted, local forces are needed to sustainably hold territory from which Isis is removed. If Kurds stayed in occupation of Arab territory it would produce a backlash similar to Iran’s militias that would redound to Isis’s benefit, as Sunni Arabs fear sectarian domination more than Isis. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday he believes that if an agreement can be reached to ease President Bashar al-Assad of Syria from power, a coalition of Americans, Russians and Syrian forces could wipe out the Islamic State “in a matter of literally months.”

Mr. Kerry’s comments, in a speech to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Belgrade, Serbia, on Thursday morning, were the first in which he publicly offered an estimate of how quickly a well-organized effort might be able to defeat the radical Sunni group. He also said that “without the ability to find some ground forces that are prepared to take on Daesh,” using an Arabic acronym for the group, “this will not be won completely from the air, and we know that.” But he was not specific about where those ground troops would come from. His aides later said they would have to be indigenous. [Continue reading…]

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