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How to defeat ISIS (and why it probably won’t happen)

Bruce Newsome, Lecturer in International Relations | March 2, 2015

Air strikes won’t defeat ISIS. A Western ground invasion would, but the West is far short of that commitment, to its increasing peril.

ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham; more transliterately known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL; most derogatively known by its Arabic acronym “Da’ish”) is an effective state and must be defeated as a state, before its other risks (civil war, terrorism, insurgency, genocide) can be contained.

Although many officials are unwilling to admit ISIS’ self-declared transition to an “Islamic State,” we should – for strategic purposes – admit its effective statehood, even though we should continue to deny its legitimacy. In fact, we should realize the advantages of fighting a state, but not with current strategy.

ISIS has declared a worldwide caliphate (Islamic government). This ambition is materially beyond al-Qaida’s: al-Qa’ida wanted to stimulate a cosmic war between its restrictive religious adherents and the infidel, but never led material aggrandizement on earth, except perhaps in Afghanistan in the 1990s.

ISIS’s reach

For now, ISIS does not govern the world, but it governs most of eastern Syria and north-western Iraq, while groups from Egypt (Ansar Bait al-Maqdis) through Libya (Barka Province) to Algeria (Jund al-Khilafah) have changed their names to match, and mature Jihadi groups have pledged allegiance or alliance as far away as Somalia (al-Shabab), Nigeria (Boko Haram), Pakistan (Jundallah), and Malaysia (Abu Sayyaf).

The Islamic State’s territorial control has included Iraq’s third largest city (Mosul) since June 2014, and the northern suburbs of Baghdad since October 2014.

The Islamic State has captured military stockpiles in Syria and Iraq that include main battle tanks and surface-to-air missiles of almost the latest Russian and U.S. models.

The Islamic State’s finances rival a wealthy state, including:

  • some proportion of around $200 million in under-accounted charitable aid to Syria in 2014 alone;
  • crude oil supplies worth from $1 million to $3 million per day;
  • around $20 million from ransoms paid directly in 2014
  • looted ancient archeology worth millions more;
  • perhaps $1.5 billion in cash captured from Syrian and Iraqi banks;
  • lucrative border crossings with Turkey, Syria, Kurdistan, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia; and
  • taxes and tithes.

The Islamic State’s subjects include between 6 million and 8 million civilians – focused in the Syrian and Iraqi Sunni heartlands, more conformist with fundamentalist Sunni Jihadism than ever – by self-selection and genocide.

The declaration of caliphate implies an obligation on “Jihadis of the sword” everywhere to join in its defense and expansion. Volunteers from more than 80 countries have joined ISIS – about half of them have emigrated from the relatively wealthy and free West. Where al-Qa’ida urged Westerners to take the great risks of striking locally, usually without outside help and without probable success, ISIS offers the psycho-social appeal of physical camaraderie in an enduring campaign.

Material success reinforces the cosmic claims. If ISIS can establish a caliphate and survive, despite hostility from the rest of the world, then, so Jihadis claim, their divine superiority is proven. The persistence of the state is self-reinforcing.

Aerial bombing 

Ironically, an Islamic State is more exposed than the non-state actors from which ISIS was formed. ISIS is occupying and governing territory, within a largely flat, unobscured natural environment, without significant air or water transport, moving between cities on a few bold highways, sometimes with captured military trucks, tanks, and tank transporters, which are the easiest weapons to observe from the air.

The trouble with an air campaign is that aircraft alone cannot flush out ground forces. Jihadi insurgents normally travel in civilian vehicles, which are effectively indistinguishable from collateral traffic, unless ground intelligence has identified the particular vehicle in which a particular target person is travelling at a particular time. Jihadis have taught each other to hide these unobtrusive vehicles in buildings or under natural materials and to live among non-combatants.

An air campaign against terrorists/insurgents inevitably causes collateral harm to the persons and infrastructures within which terrorists/insurgents operate, thereby apparently proving the non-state side’s frequent claims that the state is the real terrorist.

If air campaigners want to avoid these collateral risks, then they must focus on large sedentary assets in barren areas, such as oil derricks in the desert. This is effectively the current counter-ISIS strategy. It cannot defeat ISIS.

A lot of nonsense has been written about current strategy, such as the claim that it is a counter-terrorist strategy. It is not; aerial bombing is a conventional modern counter-state strategy. It is the least efficient and least decisive strategy, even more so against the Islamic State in 2015 than against Germany in 1945. The Islamic State is not dependent on heavy industry or urban infrastructure; it does not mourn fatalities so much as glorify divine selection of the victims into heaven or hell; it presents collateral casualties as proof of the infidels’ moral illegitimacy; it uses air strikes as evidence of cowardly unwillingness to fight on land.

The air strategy has been chosen not for its effectiveness in defeating ISIS (indeed, US President Obama has carefully promised to “degrade” ISIS), but for its effectiveness in reducing the exposure of friendly personnel, while still offering spectacular images of destruction.

Democracies favor remote strike weapons, as launched from expensive platforms such as aircraft and ships, because they offer great destruction at the target without necessary ground involvement. Personnel on the ground could be captured, wounded, and killed by simple technologies that cannot harm aircraft or ships (as simple as pistols, knives, and automobiles, in most of the latest Jihadi terrorism in Europe, Israel, and China). Democratic governments fear political punishment for ground casualties more than for the great material expenses and ineffectiveness of remote strike campaigns, which are not as easily accounted as are human casualties.

An air campaign does not expose friendly personnel on the ground until a pilot is shot down or crashes in enemy territory. This was the terrible fate of the Jordanian pilot (Moaz al-Kassasbeh) whom ISIS captured in December and burnt to death in February. In response to his capture, the United Arab Emirates had stopped air strikes pending some reassurance that the coalition’s capacity for rescuing downed pilots could be improved. In retaliation for his death, Jordan stepped up its air strikes in Iraq. UAE joined in. Egypt has stepped up its strikes in Libya, in response to ISIS beheading Egyptian nationals on the ground there, and has accepted inevitable criticism of the high collateral casualties.

Retaliation is not a new or an effective military strategy – it just offers domestic political advantages over doing nothing. The retaliatory motivations of the latest air strikes, and the counter-productive collateral harm, increase the net disadvantages.

Ground forces

Air strikes alone are indecisive without a ground campaign to flush the terrorists/insurgents out of their hiding places and to contain them for separation from ordinary civilians. In response, terrorists/insurgents must fight, pretend to be non-combatants, or flee. Fighting against enemies on the ground offers a much higher chance of harm, since ground troops (unlike air-delivered missiles) can sustain and adapt the fight at short ranges. Terrorists/insurgents who pretend to be non-combatants are exposed to their enemy’s policing and their co-conspirator’s betrayal. Those who break free of their urban shelters expose themselves to air attack, helped by the reliable intelligence that only a ground presence can provide.

The ground component could be provided by local ground forces, but they are self-interestedly focused on securing their own claims, not on defeating ISIS. For instance, Kurdish ground troops and Western air strikes helped to drive ISIS out of Kobani, on the Syrian side of the Turkish border, but that battle lasted from October to January, when ISIS gave up, leaving few dead behind. In February, Kurdish troops advanced back to their self-declared borders short of Mosul, but the situation is properly described as a stalemate.

Also in February, Turkish troops entered Syria to secure an Ottoman shrine, which they shortly evacuated to Turkey, again without any intent to defeat ISIS.

On 20 February, a careless spokesman at Central Command (the US military command responsible for the Middle East) gave background information to journalists about a plan for Iraqi ground troops to retake Mosul in April or May, supported by Western air strikes, but Mosul is under ISIS control because Iraqi troops largely abandoned their posts last year, and Iraq has not observably improved its military’s will since then, except to negotiate more US tanks and helicopters.

The Shia regime in Syria has been most engaged in fighting ISIS and its allies since they joined the rebellion there in 2011, while Iran has expanded its presence in Iraq since the US-led coalition defeated the Sunni regime in 2003, and supports proxies (such as Hezbollah) in Syria, but the US government has repeatedly ruled out military cooperation with either state.

Each of the Middle Eastern actors has naturally selfish interests in fighting ISIS. Even if one expected that any of these actors would develop both the capacity and the will to defeat ISIS, rather than just selfish containment or retaliation, they are split by sectarian religious disputes (largely between Shia majority governments in Syria, Iraq, and Iran and Sunni majority governments elsewhere), as well as ethnic divisions (most obviously between Turks, Kurds, Arabs, and Persians).

To defeat the Islamic State and contain ISIS fighters, the ground campaign would need to be led by first-tier Western armies, would need to be of a scale equivalent to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and would need the cooperation of Iraq’s neighbors, so that Iraq’s borders can be closed, otherwise ISIS fighters would escape to other failed states.

This cooperation would need to include not just Western “allies” Kurdistan and Turkey, but at least tacit cooperation from Western “enemies” Syria and Iran. The greater challenge would be to keep Syria and Iran from expanding their presence in Iraq, which is another reason for the West to lead and to commit sufficient capacity to defeat ISIS without dependency on any foreign state. The West could not even rely on Iraq, but would need to plan to reconstitute Iraq’s central government as the representative secular state that the previous coalition failed to leave behind in 2008.

Terrible threshold

Western intervention of the scale and scope required to defeat ISIS will not happen, given popular aversion to further ground commitments of the type that failed to stabilize Afghanistan and Iraq already, and the elite’s political correctness and complacency about the true risks presented by a caliphate.

For the West to even consider the commitments necessary to defeat ISIS, it would need to be provoked by ISIS with some diabolical outrage many times more lethal or more proximate to Western homelands than any of its outrages so far. Almost certainly a terrorist outrage like that of 11 September 2001, in a Western homeland, would provoke Western invasion of the Islamic State. However, that is a terrible threshold for which to wait.

Politicians, even democratic politicians, have obligations to guide, as well as to follow, their citizenry’s popular will. This guidance should begin with honesty about both the ineffectiveness of the current strategy and the true risks of leaving an Islamic State to consolidate.

Without a Western-led invasion, ISIS will dominate its current territory indefinitely, in yet another lingering civil war, in yet another failed state, with yet more contagion to other states. Consolidating its territory over years if not decades (an average civil war lasts 7 years; some have lasted 30), it would certainly redirect its idle capacity to the homelands of its avowed but indecisive enemies, as Jihadis always promise.

Comments to “How to defeat ISIS (and why it probably won’t happen)

  1. Any enemy’s biggest weakness is its own biggest strength. ISIS biggest strength is its size, power and its people. No matter how strict the ruler is people are always different. A simple rumour set within ISIS could light a civil spark inside of ISIS which would in turn be the beginning of the downfall. Fear is the biggest enemy of all humans, combine that with greed and a human is corrupted. If internet is their biggest asset then let it also be the downfall. False video and voice proofs set by credible sources would probably do the trick. The war is lost when the heart is lost. It’s true that ideology will live on within a few but the same remains for the Nazi soldiers but no action was ever taken since.

  2. ISIS is an ideology. You can’t bomb an ideology. You can’t kill and ideology. BUT… you can prove an ideology is pointless.

    ALL religions are stupid if taken to impose their own laws on society. Christianity, Judaism, and of course the most stupid of them all, Islam.

    All are just plain stupid. Beautiful myths and colorful allegories, taken to the extreme.

    You defeat ISIS, by defeating the inherent bigotry, in all of these religions.

    Grow up humanity!

  3. ISIS could be defeated easily if the objective of the operation was changed. The free world is always talking about human rights so make it a humane operation to liberate those people whose cities have been captured by isis. Go in, liberate, move on to the next location. The ball is now in their court.

    • jon,
      Your definition of defeat is not sustainable. We have already done exactly as you suggest. Once the ball is returned to their court the seeds of ISIS will remain and form the next extremist group. It might not be called ISIS but the effect will be the same. ISIS is not a finite number of “bad guys”. ISIS is an idea that can not be destroyed. It is only through injustice that ISIS can recruit. Well fed, well housed, justly treated people do not have the level of grievance that can be appealed to by groups like ISIS.

  4. Why not develop those robotic war dogs DARPA is working on, set up factories and make a million of them. Jobs.

    Then put them on the ground and literally let loose the dogs of war. 50,000of those dogs dropped into raqqa with guns mounted on their backs, some with grenade launchers and all with high explosive self destruct.

    Raqqa first, then Mosul, then wherever else the remnants of their army run to.

    If we play nice or by the rules, we will absolutely positively lose.

    We need to think outside the box, stimulate our economy and eliminate any and all that stand with dash, regardless of their combat status.

    Aerial bombardments with no regard for laws that tie our hands, such as bombing power plants, dams, grain silos, water treatment plants, fuel depots, hospitals, even marketplaces and stadiums. Biological agents into the water supplies, poison the rivers and lakes, napalm villages and cities if the opportunity arises.

    Enough playing by the rules, we will lose if we are the only ones following them.

    It’s harsh, but it will work. They can’t hold a candle to. Our killing power.

    6-8 million civilians under dash? The Nazis killed that and more in a few years, we can do it in 60 days if we put our mind to it.

    That’s, or accept our defeat and the end of the world as we know it.

    • Unjust, ruthless ways won’t work, I would call it the end of the world strategy.

      Ground Ops, Black Ops, Social engineering on one side. Humanitarian support, Education, providing food, liberating civilians and cornering the bastards is another. We should empower the people to chose their destiny, help them fight their own challenges.

      Controlled robotic invasion would be a great Idea too, but cannot agree with Elliot on other options, I won’t burn down my house only because there’s a rat in it. I avoid pest control with chemicals as I have a young baby, I opt for repellents as far as I can.

      All good guys should focus on getting it done with minimal collateral damage. Why? A Good guy is valuable than a million bad guys.

    • you cant fight fire with fire, its senseless. ISIS has enough nuclear weapon to damage any country and believe me it wont hesitate to do so. what we really need is a way to stop ISIS not bombard them. practically thinking bombarding ISIS can also lead to world war 3 .

  5. Whether it is the question to capture ISIS or to stop terrorism, both are same: If we really want to defeat ISIS, first we have to break all the power of ISIS and collapse all those agencies who are supplying money and weapons to them. Then we can target to capture them. See this TV video, which more specifically speaks to the facts.

  6. 1. destroy isis capability of using the internet take away their networks so they cant get recruits and that will prevent lone wolf attackers being inspired
    2. destroy their infrastructure such as every road and take away electricity and then cut off all food supplies
    3. destroy the tactical valuable targets such as all anti air and that could have a long range impact in a battle
    4. destroy every vehicle they have even civilian cars which will be eventually used
    4. destroy command building or the personnel who control the separate cells
    5. then destroy all gathering areas for the ISIS armed groups
    6. destroy training areas so no new fighters
    7. destroy ever key point that they could use to their advantage such as buildings and hill tops
    8. then hit every unit known in a fighting area its simple destroy their want to fight
    9. and destroy their capabilities to make money and distribute it
    10. they are losing more than most people think

    • 1. They can still use cellphones
      2. They have enough ground to grow farms but it may be difficult
      3. Meh, that could work but difficult
      4. Ok
      Another 4. Problem: what are the command buildings/the personnel who control the separate cells and its location ?
      5. ISIS IS EVERYWHERE because of using social media
      6. Ok
      7. Ok
      8. …
      9. Almost Impossible
      10. and somewhat innocent people

    • I guess that’s what Allies trying to do, give them some time for the home work. They must be busy with several equations there. Much complex than we can think of.

      When you play professional chess, you don’t think of just next step, its a visionary strategy to the end point. How much time, how many pawns, how many points. You know a lot is involved. Just hope this HomeWork will be done soon.

  7. The weapons that ISIS gets were stolen from some of the countries captured by ISIS AND GIVEN BY THE US GOVERNMENT. Obama is not the evil one, the guys who command him are. We never know who is the admin of a game, he`s silent because he knows hackers will destroy him and steal his power. In real life, those hackers are us and the admins are the governments. They put an OP who tells things that are meant to please the people but they never tell the truth, if we find the “admins” and destroy them, peace will rule over the world and no one will die (unless psychos come to fight). If we find the ECONOMIC CAUSE, we will win the war easely. NO MONEY = NO WEAPONS. And no money = no propaganda. We need to destroy the brains.

  8. I hope anonymous is with America. I’m glad they are helping the cause. And why is it that a professionally trained group can impact Isis but the united States can’t? Our president needs to do better.

    • Anonymous is with the people, not with any country! If we unite, we will defeat ISIS pretty easely if people are brave. BRAVERY IS BETTER THAN FEAR AND BRAVERY OUTSTANDS EVERYTHING! We need to love our lives and fight with love for them! We will win one day

  9. ISIS will keep plotting to attack Western cities as long as it is has the means to do so. Destroying it as soon as possible is very important. A delay may lead to further loss of innocent lives which could be saved by acting promptly now. The cost of a ground war is not important. Waiting to overthrow Assad is not wise. The success of the Paris attack will make things worse for the West. They will attack again unless they are STOPPED NOW no matter what the moderates/rationalists are saying. The next victims will not thank the world leaders who are delaying things and allowing ISIS to expand their presence. The West should also try to get the more sane Muslims into condemning ISIS so they can’t prey upon susceptible young Muslim people and recruit them. The Muslim community needs to feel supported by the West politically/economically/socially else it will keep losing disillusioned young people to extremist/radical movements like ISIS.

    • Young people are always disillusioned by the dictates of their elders. But in an actually in a realized reality they usually band together and do what is necessary.

    • The cost of a ground war is VERY MUCH important, you are talking about trading life’s sooner in a battle ground to avoid an imaginary or may be a possible threat later somewhere in homeland. Saying is easy, in practice its devastating. Who should take this risk and why.

      Here are the facts, its the core problem of Middle East, they should fight and others can help.
      Rest of the world may a take a calculated action when necessary and with minimal collateral damage.
      Even if the problem is complex we need simpler solutions.

      There are countries involved with vested interests, good are bad or whatever in between, this is not as simple as it seems. Lets do not underestimate the good guys who are already working on it.

  10. The Islamic State grew out of the remnants of the Islamic State of Iraq (formerly Al Qaeda in Iraq) which had several precursors dating all the way back to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s terrorist activities in the late 80s or early 90s. Someone asked where ISIS obtained its weapons. It obtained huge amounts of weapons from the US indirectly when the Obama Administration started arming Syrian Opposition Groups without a solid vetting process in place. Islamic State had even publicly boasted about getting weapons, training and other aid from the US by sending its own personnel to a US training center in Jordan.

    That was in 2012. The administration was warned repeatedly about the dangers of arming Syrian Opposition Groups. You can see the warnings and issues here (PDF).

    Many of the groups that the US armed dissolved into the Islamic State or Al Nusra Front or one of the smaller jihadist groups. The 600 tons of weapons dumped into Syria since the uprising began reconstituted the Islamic State of Iraq which became Islamic State. Those weapons were used to gain strength and eventually gain enough to overpower small Syrian Arab Army facilities. This gave access to larger weapon systems such as artillery and armor assets setting the stage for the cross over back into Iraq.

    Continued underestimations of the strength and capabilities of Islamic State in the summer of 2013 saw it begin to overrun SAA facilities which gave it the capability to literally invade Iraq in January 2014 when they took Fallujah and then the lightning blitz across Anbar that led to the seizure of Mosul in June 2014. You can learn a lot more about Islamic State other terrorist groups and geopolitical events at

  11. Can you please explain where ISIS gets its weapons from? The French just sold some many billions of dollars worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia, which I believe is a source to many terrorists (including State terror). Can you describe that weapons pipeline? Many thanks.

    • ISIL has acquired almost all of its weapons by capturing or stealing from official Syrian and Iraqi stocks; some weapons were captured by affiliates in Libya from official Libyan stocks, as far back as the rebellion there in 2011, before being smuggled into Syria, usually between like-minded Sunni Jihadi groups; some weapons have been supplied illicitly by sponsors, including Chinese-made and Russian-made weapons that presumably were purchased by neighboring states before illicit export to like-minded Sunni Jihadi groups in Syria. Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah are also exporting arms into Syria and Iraq, but to the Shia groups aligned with the majority-Shia central governments in those two countries.

      • Oh please stop it ! Currently there are 14 captured advisors taken in Alleppo . U.S., Israel,
        Saudi, Turkey, Morocco, Jordan are the countries of origin. We have a serious following of Fake News dispersal with a sour smell all to itself on this page.
        –Didn’t anyone figure it out when Russia came in and kicked ass on the rebels,
        but the U.S. STILL wouldn’t share information or intelligence. They don’t want help because
        ISIS has become an investment gone wrong for U.S.-Israeli and Saudi interests.
        Mexico is a far bigger threat and danger to U.S. security. Why don’t we go there ?
        What a truly pathetic level of discourse coming from BERKELEY .

  12. What has changed considerably is that most “innocents” have fled the State, leaving adherents. While a conventional air campaign may not be 100% effective, a nuclear one likely would be, but of course no one wants to suggest that.

  13. It’s obvious that you repeat fallacious data you’ve read instead of doing original research. Bashar-Al -Assad was pursuing further studies in ophthalmology in London according to the BBC. He graduated from the College of Medicine of the University of Damascus in 1988, intending to pursue a career in this field.
    Between 1988 and 1992 he specialized in ophthalmology at Tishrin military hospital in Damascus, before going to London to pursue further studies.

  14. What’s scary is the thought of ISIS attacking North Korea, and Korea declaring war on the world around them. This will ensure definite destruction, and mass casualties. I’m talking about a real 3rd world war. Where perfectly defined nations attack each other. ISIS has no known nation. They are everywhere.

    • North Korea declaring War on the World would be like a child, NORTH KOREA, slapping it’s Mother, CHINA, in the face IN PUBLIC. Since North Korea has already shown their technological advances it would be highly unlikely that they would do anything but assist China in swatting that fly.

  15. With the slaughter in Paris, do you feel the”terrible threshold” which you referenced in your 3/2/15 post has been crossed? What more will it take for the International community to take multi-lateral military action against the Islamic state?

  16. To isolate the Islamic State, high time it is!

    1. President Asad used to be a dentist practicing in LONDON, before coming to power. Ask MI5 to locate someones closed to him, his Prima Mater and Alawite community in London, fly them over to Syria and show him it is his way out, winning him over and joining together with all the factions there against their common and ultimate enemy, the IS. Mind you the Alawites just take up less than 10 per cent in Syria, a minority. He knows only too well!

    2. Get some leverage over Turkey so that they go easy on PKK, work together with the Kurds, and build up trails through the border passes penetrating and attacking the IS at their soft belly and back.

    3. Talk with Iran and win over Shiiltes.

    • An old statement said the ENEMY of MY ENEMY is MY FRIEND. So use your assets to their fullest. It is always easier to defend in one direction than in all directions.

  17. I believe ISIS will be destroyed, but it must be done without the use of American “boots on the ground” and more to the point it is not necessary. If the Russians can be believed, they are pushing ISIS back in Syria along with any other rebels opposed to the Assad regime. There is U.S. funding for the Lebanese, Hezbollah, to fight ISIS. Any push by ISIS into Iraq will be met by continued Iranian funding and military assistance to Baghdad and to Kurdistan. I reiterate that the Sunni in northern Iraq must be given guaranteed borders to allow them to live in peace free from Shiite governance in Baghdad.

    Iran is seen as trying to dominate the region but this is not correct. In large part this propaganda has been spread by Israel to bolster its opposition to the Iranian nuclear deal. Iran has actually expressed doubts about going into northern Iraq, as it would lead to Sunni resentment. ISIS represents a radical element of the Muslim religion and should and will be destroyed, sooner rather than later.

  18. Best method in my opinion, let ISIS grow. They will declare the chalifate. Let them. Their chaliphate extends up to Saudi Arabia, including Mecca and Medina. Don’t interfere.

    Once they capture Iraq and Syria completely, they will advance to Saudi, and then the Saudi monarch will make sure that the radical clerics inside Saudi will issue fatwas against the ISIS and urge the other monarchs to join. Once Saudi issues the fatwa, then, they themselves will fight among themselves and destroy.

  19. To understand ISIS and its quick victories in Iraq, you need a little history. Under the Ottoman empire, Iraq was three separate entities: the Sunni north, the Shiite south, and Baghdad. The borders drawn by Europeans created modern Iraq and put the two religious factions together.

    After a disastrous invasion by the US, the majority Shiite under a democratic system took control of the Sunni north. They replaced the Baathists, who were relatively secular. They sent in their military and consolidated power over Mosul and other cities. They practiced a barbaric rule that saw the deaths of many Sunnis who peacefully protested against them.

    Along came a rather small force of ISIS into Mosul and the Shiites flee the city. Why? Because the people of Mosul and those in other cities see ISIS as a lesser evil than the Shiites and they rose up militarily to support ISIS.

    The Sunni of northern Iraq are not ISIS. They will rise up against ISIS as they did against Alquada, but first one very important thing has to happen. Recognize that Irag is broken. Don’t send Shiite forces backed by Iran to retake these cities. The situation then will not change. You have to reach out to the Baathists of Northern Iraq and guarantee to them their own secure borders, free of Shiite domination. With this guarantee of self determination they will be willing to take on ISIS with the help of other countries like Jordan and Egypt, if they are willing, and they have reasons to help.

    Syria. Bigger problem. “Assad must go” was always the wrong policy. Now that he is losing he will want to avoid a bloodbath. He will negotiate to keep a smaller area of Syria around Damascus for his Shiite regime. Let the Russians help; they have a vested interest.

    As for the rest of Syria, it has devolved into a chaos resembling Libya. I have no good answer for Syria at this time that does not involve putting foreign troops into a religious war that could take decades to resolve. Is there a group of reasonable Sunni that could be backed to ensure a victory? I don’t know.

  20. ISIS can be defeated if the U.S. military is properly utilized. Instead of a large ground invasion on the scale of the 2003 invasion, a wiser and ultimately more effective solution would be to go about this the way we did in Afghanistan in 2001-02. Utilizing small teams made up of US Army Special Forces, Marsoc, and CIA SOG to coordinate, train, and lead the various Sunni and Shia militias to recapture territory lost to ISIS and obtain intelligence on ISIS activities as well as those of the senior leadership. Not to mention sending special forces to fight and lead the Kurds, which was proven to be extremely effective in Operation Viking Hammer. Furthermore the utilization of forward air controllers embedded with indigenous forces to increase the effectiveness of the air campaign and cripple the logistical capabilities of ISIS.

    The strategy of utilizing our special operations forces is the most cost effective and best way to go about beating ISIS. This approach has been proven in Afghanistan during the 1st year of the war, where about 500 SOF operators and a couple thousand Northern Alliance toppled the Taliban. One of the most important things about this approach is letting Special Operations Command run the show instead of some Unqualified General back here.

    hat’s the short term game. A long-term strategy would be to reform the current Iraqi government and give the Kurds their well deserved separate state. But of course this is all in theory, tell me what c’hall think.

  21. The biggest original mistake was the US arming the Taliban to oust the Russians from Afghanistan. The Russians were invited in by a legitimate government for the very reasons the British and the US have fought to contain the Taliban in Afghanistan. The weapons given to the Taliban have been used against both British and US forces. In hindsight it would have been wise to let the Russian campaign take its course against the Taliban; it may have altered the course of present events or could have least lessen them.

  22. I am asking why ISIS exists? I will never forget the irresponsible actions of Bush and Co and worst of all based on the most immoral purposes. We always find money to invest in wars, but not on peace, that brings prosperity and real happiness. Men are the only animals that trip over on the same stone. Cause and effect. Now we have to confront the unexpected in this materialistic, hedonist, individualist world. ISIS are not from Mars. They are from planet Earth and we in some way “produced” ISIS. I hope the world leaders acting in unison collaborate for the good of humanity.

  23. Draft. Put 1,000,000 MEN on the ground. Screw the libral banter. Just DO IT . Be SURE to get the children of the wealthy in the draft

  24. One word, Iran. Whatever the West think of Iran, remember that the Revolutionary Guard, alongside their Lebanese counterparts Hezbollah, don’t go around killing innocents, or cutting Christian heads off as is the case with ISIS. More tactical support must be given to Iran, be it from China, Russia or whoever.

    Destroying ISIS is a war to be fought on 2 fronts remember a lot of their foreign recruits that make a significant percentage and are often more fanatical are enticed to join by the countless pro ISIS internet videos online, a serious propaganda war must be launched in which ISIS is shown in their true colour and that is a satanic force that kills innocent people. That coupled with a full scale Iranian backed assault will solve this problem.

  25. Defeating ISIS cant be that hard they have no strategy they just fight fight fight until they kill everyone or they surrender!! We cant get big headed like with iraq! Its there territory they know it best! Before we put troops on the ground, we have to wipe out there oil cash and supply flow!!

    Weakin your opponets then attack! Bomb the hell out of there supply routes, oil supplies etc!! Once that is done they will have no other choice but to find different places. Thats when we strike carefully and strategically, first with bombs to stop there movement until we get them in a smaller area, then foot soldiers tanks etc all the ground stuff and get at it. But instead of coming in from one direction, we need to be able to some what surround them so if they run we are ready!!

    We will need help from surrounding areas to eliminate hideouts, which I think we can do with some negotiations! Thats my opinion — may not work but hey seems like a good idea to me.

    • Cowards are Cowards and that is what they are. Their the BIG BULLY on the BLOCK. Bully’s are easy to defeat. There are always less of them than those they have Bullied and still those Bullied have not combined forces to vanquish the Bully. Why? I personally do not believe that Islam condones these actions so Step up for your beliefs. After all the Muslims are the most oppressed by this organization.

  26. Thank you America for fighting for our rights and for what’s right. God bless every veteran who sacrifice their life for peace and harmony all around the world. God bless America. Asian guy

  27. WHO to fight and beat ISIS? Obama says Syria and Iraq. It is true in common sense! However, the two nations, weakened daily by civil and tribal war, are in no position to cope with the sophisticated global jihadists, not indigenous to either nation.

    The global jihadist nature of ISIS with their fail-safe rear shield from Turkey, is bent on controlling Mesopotamia the regional soft belly and threatening the Arab world, hence it is a global warfare encompassing intangible and cyberspace!

  28. Two mistakes we’ve made in the Middle East since Iraqi invasion:
    1) pulling out so quickly and not leaving a presence for at least another ten years (you can’t manufacture democracy in two years it has too be nurtured)
    2) disbanding Iraqi army after invasion when it was willing to work with us to stay in place

    • The effective defeat of ISIS is not particularly difficult.

      Place a US and allied fleet in the Mediterranean Sea close to the north Syrian coast to support an armored tank and artillery base on the coast area that’s protected with bulldozed sand trenches, razor wire and full 24 hour drone support with fighter/ bomber backup. Entice ISIS to strike as it always wanted. Use remote controlled tanks and armored platforms to attack the advancing ISIS. Warn Asad to keep away.

      Advance with mostly remotely controlled tanks etc to surround Raqqa and promise to blast any motor vehicles leaving or entering. Allow refugees out on foot, carts etc. If ISIS stop them don’t worry about it.

      Create fully walled and protected zones for each class of ethic refugees and create new cities for them with allied support, with no Mosques or Islamic religious leaders allowed to stay. It will permanently change the Middle East to a better, educated and more democratic regions intolerant of extreme Islam. Rewrite a proper Koran for the new cities. They can leave if they don’t like living in these protected cities.

      Keep pounding ISIS with drones, pilotless fighters etc every where. Fully arm the Kurds with heavier weapons and support there wants for a new Kurdistan. Keep Turkey out of Syria where possible.

      Retain the sanctions on Iran and stop believing they will comply with nuclear sanctions unless they completely buckle to full inspections and relinquishment of nuclear weapon building capacity – they won’t.

      • “Allow Refugees out on foot…if ISIS stops them don’t worry.”

        That sentence is exactly why America and other countries are hesitant to advance on ISIS. If we were to strike, the number of casualties and deaths would be staggering – it is not fair to the innocent people caught up in this horrific war to allow them to be shoved to the side and left to fend for themselves. We need a strategy which will ensure the least number of lives are lost and yet to still take down ISIS.

        May I also add that military strategies never occur like they are planned – we can’t predict the future and were we to fail with this strike, then even more people would die and Western countries would also be at even more threat, with obvious repercussions such as increased bombings and terrorist attacks by ISIS.

        We also have no idea what ISIS keeps hidden – what’s to say they don’t keep advanced technology to defend themselves against possible attacks?

        Your strategy is well thought out but it isn’t merciful to the innocent people caught in the crossfire. Imagine if you were trapped by ISIS – I assure you your view would be very different.

  29. How many civilians have to die before the west takes action? Tunisia, Kuwait, France? Bottom line, no western powers are prepared to step up and take these animals on.

    ISIS knows this and has a free reign because it knows that no one has the bottle to act….THE TIME TO ACT IS NOW!

  30. No wars are alike.

    Every successful battle is closely pegged to specific situations. However, there are ground rules for us to follow:
    Have a good understanding of the strong and weak points, both ours and opponents; Limitless ruses or feints to blind and lure them, divide and separate them and attack the enemy unaware!

    For these purposes, we have to restructure our forces into columns able to make spread as well as concentrate maneuvers, and good at combine our strong points in air and communication. Guard against any unnecessary engagements, positional ones especially! They are highly mobile, hence no case for regular warfare! Our first priority is to capture, cut and destroy their Achilles’ tendon, namely, their supplies food rations water fuel and ammunition!

  31. Regardless of who or when ISIS is defeated. If the west plays fair – like it always does – it will have tens of thousands of war criminals to be tried in The Hague. And what if they are all sentenced to be hung? How many appeals will they get? And who will pay for all of their food and lodging while this BS process is dragging out? It’s a shame the west cannot convince the Russians to do the dirty work here. I don’t think there would be any prisoners of war left to deal with once the shooting stopped.

  32. I have no doubt that we could take back cities from ISIS with ground troops. It might take a long time and we would likely lose troops to IEDs and urban fighting.

    But once we took control of the cities, what would come next? Certainly we would have to contend with an insurgency. Would we need to leave surge levels of troops in Iraq indefinitely? I see no workable long game strategy for defeating ISIS and securing Iraq. Failure to plan for the long game was what got us into this mess to begin with. Why make the same mistake twice?

  33. Establish a no-drive Zone, where every vehicle on the road is destroyed. ISIS will then be isolated in its cities. Have Kurds then beseige town after town until Mosul. Blast Mosul for a few months with bombs, allowing refugees only out with wagons and carts, no cars or trucks. When only ISIS is left, level the city. Harsh but no major loss of ground troops. Cities can be rebuilt.

  34. Thing is though, all the government regimes get toppled by the west. Hussein had a united Iraq but they got rid of that, so now there are loads of tiny little groups all warring

  35. Let all counties like China, India, Russia, Japan, Saudi Arabia contribute 10,000 ground forces and attach in the ground to ISIS. Surely we can defeat them in a day.

  36. Step 1. Degrade

    Step 2. Defeat

    I agree with the majority of these posts. Air strikes alone will not do what SHOULD be done. It will do enough to keep the west safe for some time, but we all know the right thing to do is to rid the world of the sickness they spread.

    As one person already stated, funding is a large issue for us.

    Personally I think the major wealthy nations of the world should band together on a PR campain to its wealthy citizens. Proposition the millionaires and billionaires of the world; Ask if they would be willing to donate their own cash, no public records except for potential tax rebates 😉

    With these funds, hire the services of a paramilitary or simply some highly skilled mercenaries. Sure it may sound as simple as a video game, but if we pull on the heartstrings of the rich with a good solution to DEGRADE ISIS, it will make defeat far simpler. If we could locate the cash storages, leaders, and organizers, of ISIS through local intelligence officers, we could pick those targets off locally, with immense stealth. Which will not only physically damage their structure, but also severely damage morale, as they currently feel untouchable in their own lands.

    So basically we need James Bond, but let’s be realistic. Hiring a small military force for a probable high risk situation may seem odd, you all know the rich can afford more.

    If large cash storage, high profile leaders, and local organizers were slowly destroyed, the organization would collapse. Which would lead to mass desertion, and a fair easier “take back” of the land.

    Whatever cash or resources our sub contractor may find, will be secured and used for Aid for the civilians, but managed by the coalition leader.

    Intelligence could be shared between our hired forces and the coalition for maximum results.

    It’s just the thought I had, let me know what you think about it.

    If 1000 people donate 1 million each……. Think about it. There are A LOT of millionaires + in this world. Crowd funding or something haha

  37. Well forget it until you get rid of Clintons, Obamas, non patriots by the millions here. If we get patriots we get rid of terrorists we give top priority at getting rid of beheaders of women and children Whabbi Sharia law idiot murderers. Until then you are spitting in the wind. Get rid of DC roaches Chicago Mafia groups now in office in C
    dC in2016. Impeach them all.

    • ISIS can be defeated because their thinking is flawed. It would be like me trying to win a game of chess by attempting to put the queen in checkmate. They believe that God is on their side. I don’t believe in god but even if i did, I don’t think he operates like that. They believe that their cause is righteous. It’s not, they are looking for revenge, they are attacking the innocents. They are adding to the bloodshed instead of entering into a dialogue. They have missed the fundamental reasoning behind why the West dominated for so long. The Islamic world once led the world in science, culture and medicine and they lost it all. In Europe the state went to war with religion and won. In the middle east religion went to war with the state and won. It’s a subtle difference but it had one overwhelming effect; the rise of oil as the preeminent natural resource coincided with political collapse in the region. And so, the west exploited them, humiliated them. And at times killed them. The west’s behavior might be unforgivable, but it’s not the route cause of the regions problems. Islam needs to be removed from the political province, the same way that Christianity was in the 16th and 17th century. It needs to exist as a philosophy, not as a policy. It shackles thought and freedoms in ways that are not necessary to its continued survival. It doesn’t have to ‘go’ it just needs to adapt to the modern world.

      So yes, Isis can be defeated

  38. Few understand the effective US strategy against ISIS. There is no need or desire to completely defeat ISIS. US air power without front line US ground troops but advisors is the perfect way to sort these killers out. US and Western technology provides absolute dominance over ISIS in open terrain.

    Coordinating surrounded cut off and isolated ISIS fighters and allowing much larger numbers of Kurdish, Iraqi Sunni and Shiite forces to knock off these animals in cities is very effective so long as Western forces are available assist them. It worked in the dam areas, Kobani, Tikrit and will work equally well in Mosul and everywhere else as ISIS murders its own deserters before their leader flee along roads that the West can increasingly dominate.

    US technology will only get better and this strategy prevents Western ground forces being killed – a big difference to the past. What’s left will be some ISIS remnants who will fight other Islamists who also fight each other (Sunnis against Shiites as usual). That keeps them busy in the Middle East and away from other countries they want to infest with medieval beliefs. The Kurds should be able to carve out a new safer country they deserve to have and Turkey’s newer so called leaders will stew.

    Looking very good overall but what is needed is new areas carved out and defended to allow refugees of each sect to have their own mini states without Inmars and mosques to spread medieval beliefs; to let these new areas thrive with softer religious beliefs much like Israel managed to achieve.

    • That strategy feeds their objective. They profess that they are at war with the BAD GUYS. So change it up! How do we show the Muslim World that isis are the BAD GUYS? Never Ever engage your ENEMY on their terms!

  39. Interesting viewpoint. Thank you.

    Daesh as enemy poses different challenges in different modalities. Certainly in the abstract, a large assembly of U.S. ground forces, able to fight at night, with modern CC, air support, could effectively eliminate a lot of insurgents. Close-in fighting would feature the enemy IEDs and mines that define asymmetrical warfare in that terrain.

    In practice, 125,000 US troops — obviously most in support roles — did not previously constitute a winning battlefield majority because the profound crunch comes after all the battles. The US won the battles but now much of the region is in chaos.

    One point in the article doesn’t make sense: borders with Iran don’t need to be sealed for the sake of preventing Daesh fighters an escape route.

  40. I agree with the statement above ” A guy with only a hammer sees every issue as a nail and lacks the perceptiveness to present successful strategies. Obama is right: degrade ISIS … and let the immediate neighbors step up and carry their share of the load and act as they see fit to protect their frontline status.” but don’t forget that wealth is what is keeping us from prob going to war with ISIS… Our country USA is already in trillions of Debt, what’s the point in going to war and ruining the economy more? I hope they make the more ethical decision.

    • The degradation of isis is impossible approaching the situation in the mindset that we do. We and the western world are seen as the cause of their reality when isis is in reality doing to them what isis claims we are doing to them. So use the hammer to build a bridge to between the people and their future.

  41. $3 Trillion has been spent by the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan. Where’s the payout on that, and spend another $1 Trillion in that part of the world?!

    A guy with only a hammer sees every issue as a nail and lacks the perceptiveness to present successful strategies. Obama is right: degrade ISIS … and let the immediate neighbors step up and carry their share of the load and act as they see fit to protect their frontline status.

    And it would be nice if lecturers in international relations could see all the various arenas in which modern warfare is being waged (cyberwars, trade wars, currency wars) which are presenting very serious challenges to the U.S. to which another “religious war” quagmire with crazy zealots would be very counterproductive.

    • Why don’t you blame the author for ignoring child poverty too? He seemed to me refreshingly pointed, but you missed the point, and pretended that he missed something.

  42. Your solution is too complicated. The answer is much simpler. The way to stop Daesh/ISIS is to incessantly make fun of them. Worked on the KKK. This will cut off their recruitment pipeline because people will not want to be associated with them and become laughing stocks themselves. Join the cause: #DaeshISIS

    • You made a false analogy: Atomic bombs defeated Japan, not air strikes of the current campaign – we can’t nuke Iraq.

      • Kinetic effects alone will not defeat Da’esh. They have shown themselves to be masters of propaganda and in leveraging the potential of social media platforms in the cyber domain. It’s their agility, responsiveness, and the pervasiveness of their message and its “stickiness” that continues to inspire potential jihadists from around the globe. Why is that? How is that?

        In comparison the West has no cohesive and comprehensive campaign that counters their propaganda; all we see are mainstream media outlets rebroadcasting the latest atrocity and talking heads railing about how evil they are. In the battle for hearts and minds, we (the West) are losing. Again.

  43. Thank you so much for this article. It is spot on. For what it’s worth, this is consistent with what Rick Santorum has been saying in his speeches, so there is at least one voice in politics who understands these matters. I pray that we are up to the task, for the sake of the next generation.

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