Challenges for the U.S.-led fight against ISIS

By Daniel L. Davis

Earlier this month, Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook detailed the U.S. intent to drive the Islamic State (ISIS) from the Syrian city of Raqqa. He said the removal of the ISIS, “cancer from the so-called capital (Raqqa) of their so-called caliphate is the next step in our military campaign plan." This step, a Pentagon press release noted, is “happening as Iraqi security forces and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters are gaining ground as they advance toward Mosul.” From a tactical, strategic, and political point of view, however, this tough sounding “campaign plan” is built on sand and has little chance of success.

It takes surprisingly little analysis to expose the reasons why.

Currently in Mosul, a cobbled-together military coalition is making slow but steady progress against stiffening Islamic State resistance. Thus far, the operation has centered on stripping away the smaller villages surrounding Mosul to isolate ISIS in the city-proper and set the stage for the brutal city fighting yet to come. Yet before the difficult combat phase has begun in Mosul, American officials have already announced the initiation of the battle for Raqqa. Militarily speaking, expanding the fight to ISIS’ Syrian stronghold before success in Mosul is unwise.

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