Countdown From ISIS to IS-Less – Obama Says We Underestimated Strength

President Obama announced today (9/30/2014) that the US intelligence community was caught off guard by how fast ISIS grew in Syria. Not only is this a befuddling statement, that the intelligence community could have been completely caught off guard, but it is amazing that the President would throw them under the bus. In reality, plenty of information has been available and the intelligence community has been hitting back saying they did have their eye on the ball.

How Could President Obama Have Underestimated the Power Of ISIS in Syria?

President Obama and White House Staff must have been sitting in their offices with their “Eyes Wide Shut!” If nothing else, one has only to go to twitter or Facebook to get a blow-by-blow of ISIS events. ISIS enjoys publishing their conquests and their bad acts for the world to see.

Senator McCain’s response to the President’s comment that ISIS took the US by surprise was “that is not true. He said, “it has been clear ISIS has been a growing concern in Syria for some time.”

Maybe the President gets his information from the news talk shows. There are many reasons why people are confused about Syria, if the only place they are getting their information is from self-proclaimed experts and “pundits.” Many people are giving their “educated guess” about the situation in Syria. They talk about the qualifications of the Syrian Revolutionary Forces (FSA), however, they do not pre-qualify their assessment with specific information that defines how they have become an expert on military expertise. It seems that a lot of these “experts” are labeling the FSA as “incompetent.”

urban warfare in syria
Urban warfare in Syria

What Makes a Good Fighter

President Obama, as Commander in Chief of the United States, has overtly criticized the people who are fighting for the FSA. He has called them farmers, storekeepers, and laypersons that do not know anything about being a soldier. Obama then went further and made a comparison between Assad’s Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and the FSA. This compare and contrast continues to be parroted by government staffers and analysts on news shows. No one has stopped to think that Obama’s analysis could be wrong. And it is wrong.

It is true that the members of the Syrian Revolutionary Forces come from farms, stores, etc. This is also true of Assad’s army and it is true of Iraq’s army. President Obama has said that Assad’s Army is a trained Army; and that the US can depend on Iraq’s army, the same army that dropped all their equipment and ran from ISIS in Northern Iraq.

President Obama has a misconception about the Syrian Revolutionary Forces’ fighting capability. This army has gone through various formations. It has been loosely formed, not particularly because it was the desire to be that way, rather it was caused by lack of ability to communicate (equipment). Since inception, both the fighting capability and the organization have improved as SAA Officers and Soldiers have defected and joined the FSA.

The Syrian Revolutionary Forces have been fighting multiple foes coming at them from all sides for at least two years. They have been fighting the Assad Regime backfilled by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, Iraq forces and Hezbollah. ISIS has been colluding with the Assad Regime to ensure that the Syrian Revolution continues to be destabilizing and Assad remains on his throne; all in exchange for free access to Syrian territory and resources such as oil and antiquities. Additionally, Assad has had access to both Russian and Iranian Special Ops.

What the FSA have not had is special ops advisors, and they have had very little flow of lethal weapons which has been detrimental. Russia and Iran have made sure that Assad has every weapon that he needs. And it is clear that ISIS has no problem acquiring the weapons they need.

Implementing “The Strategy” In Syria

Implementation of The Strategy in Syria could be called disjointed at the very least. The United States took the lead of a coalition to begin bombing ISIS in Syria, which is a good thing. However, as usual, an important point was missed when implementing the strategy. There absolutely must be communication with the Syrian Revolutionary Forces so they can:

  1. Allow the “vetted FSA” to validate airstrike targets that are valid.
    1. Make sure ISIS has taken up positions in a particular town, village or farm or is still at an identified target prior to dropping bombs.
    2. Not destroy any standing buildings that Syrians can use as a haven from severe winter cold which is coming soon.
    3. Destroying granaries and medical facilities should be considered off limits unless there is a prior explanation of why destruction is needed. These facilities are necessary for the health and welfare of the Syrian people and are not replaceable.
  2. Make sure members of the Syrian Revolutionary Forces are able to get out of the way of the Air Strikes.
    1. The FSA is passing on targeting information about ISIS and al-Nusra; however, they are not being told if the information is being used or not.
      1. According to The Daily Beast’s Andrew Tabler, who is a Senior Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, “The Obama administration is not coordinating with the FSA because it still doesn’t believe it can trust the FSA with sensitive information about ongoing military operations.”
      2. If Andrew Tabler’s assessment is true, the Obama administration is making another mistake which will lead to another missed opportunity. Hasn’t President Obama had to apologize to the FSA at least twice for his misconceptions or inaction?
    2. Hadi al-Bahra, President of the Syrian National Coalition, has pressed Susan Rice, US National Security Advisor to set up a Joint coordination center with the FSA for operations to fight ISIS. The US was non-committal.
      1. The US consistently demonstrates a level of arrogance that has not only discouraged the Syrian FSA [boots on the ground] and ally, but has also caused what the US likes to call collateral damage.
      2. Innocent civilians and even FSA that the US needs to rely on have been collateral damage particularly in airstrikes in Idlib going after Khorasan and Jabhat al-Nusra.
      3. The US must understand that most of the men in Jabhat al-Nusra (aka al-Nusra and Victory Front) are Syrians who are fighting Assad like anyone else. They have joined al-Nusra for the paycheck, not the philosophy.
      4. The FSA relies on al-Nusra check-points because they are considered safe. They also effectively carry out parallel missions against Assad and ISIS. These missions are called parallel because there is no sharing of manpower or equipment across teams, this is an understood rule.
    3. Note: Victory Front (al-Nusra) should not be confused with Islamic Front. These are separate organizations. Islamic Front is not an al-Qaeda organization.

  3. Provide notice so innocent people are given a chance to get out of harm’s way (similar to Israel’s knock on the door) which will avoid unnecessary deaths.
  4. The US should reconsider their methodology for “training and arming” Syrian FSA in Saudi Arabia. While there may be some Syrians that will volunteer for this opportunity, especially if their families are out of the country possibly as refugees, others will find this a difficult to impossible mission.
    1. Asking these Syrian men to leave their country, but more specifically their family to go to another country for training is asking too much.

Jabhat al-Nusra – Khorasan

What has been impressive about the airstrikes in Syria is the coalition is not just a United States “go it alone” mission. Having the partnership of five key Arab nations legitimizes the mission so it is not thought of as the United States Government against an Arab State [Islamic State]. Even though the Islamic State is certainly not an Arab State, IS certainly have the ability to “sell the concept.”

ISIS youth camp volun(tolds) children 1317 to become the future ISIS fighters

It is important to remember that ISIS is really good at selling their ideals. When analysts from the defense department say that ISIS has 30,000 – 40,000 fighters split between Syria and Iraq, others estimate ISIS has approximately 100,000 members, when their non-combat members are included. This includes religious recruiters, media producers, family members of fighters, and community members with children (children are taught to be future ISIS fighters).

Light At the End of the Tunnel

If it isn’t the message that draws people to ISIS, it is the money. Unlike the FSA which is an entirely volunteer organization, ISIS pays their people. When you live in Syria and you are hungry, working for ISIS means food even if you don’t agree with what they do. This same philosophy goes for al-Nusra, as they also are able to pay their fighters.

Aljazeera recently interviewed an ex-ISIS member who has now taken asylum in Europe. He said that initially he joined ISIS for the money, lifestyle, and for the Ideal. Soon he found that ISIS had lied to him, but it was dangerous to leave them. An Imam gave him a way to leave, but others are trapped, especially the women who are lured from other countries to come to Syria to marry ISIS men.

There needs to be a way to prevent Syria’s young men from joining ISIS rather than the Syrian Revolutionary Forces (FSA). Not only do they need money to prevent their families from starving, they need to know that they will have an opportunity to free Syria from living under the horrors of the Assad regime.

By their own admission, the US has said in recent statements that they failed to step up and provide Syrians with the support they required to fight the enemies they are faced with. The US failure to act has lead to the growth of the ISIS movement.

A few highlights from September 30th

  • 146 Kurdish students from Kobani that were imprisoned by Daesh (ISIS) have been liberated.
  • In Aleppo a Syrian Kurdish conscript in the Syrian Regime’s Army died under torture for refusing to kill citizens. He was from Kobani.

McCain & Graham on ISIS and Assad in Syria

U.S. Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) released the following statement on the need for a comprehensive strategy targeting both ISIS and the Assad regime in Syria:

“President Assad terrorizes the Syrian population as much as the Islamic State does. Through barbaric barrel bombs, famine campaigns, chemical weapon attacks, and more, the Assad regime continues its brutal massacre of innocent men, women, and children. We cannot ask our partners within the Free Syrian Army to fight against ISIS while leaving them vulnerable to Assad’s air power and ground assaults.

Syrian government forces are already using U.S. airstrikes to provide cover for advances on the ground and have begun to maneuver in areas where airstrikes have occurred. If the Administration hopes to succeed in its mission, it must implement a comprehensive strategy that targets both ISIS and the Assad regime. The Syrian people should not be forced to choose between terrorists or dictators.”

In closing, President Hadi al-Bahra summarized the situation perfectly on September 23rd when he said, “The Syrian Opposition Coalition has welcomed U.S. and partner airstrikes against the Islamic State in Syria [ISIS] and they have made it clear that they stand ready to serve as willing and able partners in the fight against ISIS on the ground. However, while supportive of U.S. efforts to help combat ISIS, Syria’s moderate opposition has expressed legitimate concerns that President Assad benefits from an ISIS-first strategy.”

Is The Long Wait Over?

It must be understood that the majority of people in Syria have waited a long time for the international community to help them [free them] from the tyranny they are faced with. That tyranny comes straight from Bashar al-Assad. He is responsible for every incidence of terror that has occurred in Syria including the terror delivered by ISIS. On September 30th, President Obama had to admit once again to the failures of his administration to follow-through was responsible for creating an elephant at a tea party when it comes to ISIS. Once again the President deflected accountability to someone else.

It looks like President Obama will never take responsible for his own weak accountability that has lead to +/- 200,000 dead Syrians, of which +/- 15,000 are children. Imagine if that had happened in the United States.

July 2014 – A Painful Month for Syrians. It Is Time to Give Syrians Hope!

This short video puts some of the realities into perspective.