WASHINGTON – If President Barack Obama is looking for help from a coalition of Sunni-majority countries to resist the Islamic State, or ISIS, the consensus among regional analysts and military experts is that it won’t work.
Obama has been pushing at the recent NATO summit for the formation of a coalition to resist ISIS, but Great Britain has been stressing such a force should not be Western led. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and other administration officials have, in turn, been reaching out to nations across the Middle East.
Many of the key Sunni countries, such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, however, not only channel money to ISIS, but also have militaries inferior, particularly in command and control and tactical maneuvering, to ISIS’ capabilities – and its fanaticism and ferocity on the battlefield.
ISIS was able to score early battlefield successes against an Iraqi army that initially scattered upon being attacked, abandoning much of its modern – and expensive – Western military equipment for ISIS’ use.
This development came after the United States over a decade had spent hundreds of billions of dollars to train and equip the Iraqi army, only to have it evaporate on ISIS’ initial assaults into the country last June.
This acquisition of powerful military hardware, along with its takeover of oil wells and the robbing of banks approaching a billion dollars, allowed the Sunni jihadist group to incorporate vast amounts of territory, military bases and other strategic infrastructure facilities, which the Iraqi army now finds difficult, if not impossible, to retrieve.
Military experts point out that ISIS already has begun to adapt to air power attacks from the United States and even Syria, which has attacked ISIS positions around Raqqa, a Syrian city the ISIS announced as capital of its caliphate under which all like-minded extremist Sunnis are expected to live under strict Shariah law – or be killed.
While western airpower attacks have in some ways blunted ISIS’ advances in recent weeks, particularly around critical strategic locations such as dams in Iraq, ISIS is modifying its approach away from large convoys of vehicles that expose its positions to artillery fire.
ISIS has begun to downsize its forces to company and sometimes battalion-level operations, giving it even more flexibility and small-unit tactical capabilities, with mounting battlefield success. In effect, ISIS is adapting more to an asymmetrical warfare approach of unconventional warfare, or rapid-reaction guerrilla fighting, where hit-and-run tactics have proven successful in the past against standing armies.
Such an approach is opposite of how Arab countries typically operate, with large standing armies more difficult to maneuver at the tactical level. Arab armies also have a history of a lack of coordination when working with other Arab armies, especially in a unified command and control structure.
Despite its purchase of tens of billions of dollars in western military hardware, Saudi Arabia especially has displayed such obstacles in its fight against al-Qaida in neighboring Yemen. Capabilities of coordinated command and control and the ability to move armies swiftly require near constant military exercises to become proficient. However, there is no evidence such military exercises among Arab countries has taken place.
Unlike Arab armies, the ISIS leadership has diffused decision-making responsibilities to an emir, or prince, level, since caliph leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his close military advisors cannot micromanage highly dispersed units across a vast area.
Written by F. MICHAEL MALOOF
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