October 6, 2014

ISIS: The fall of Kobane and the march on Baghdad


The fighting in Kobane (known in Arabic as 'Ayn al-'Arab), Syria makes great television because we can watch it live as a handful of Syrian Kurds are trying to stop the inevitable takeover of the town at the hands of the fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). However, militarily in the larger scheme of things, Kobane does not occupy a major strategic location. It is a small border crossing on the Turkish border in the area of Syria inhabited by Kurds.

ISIS does not need it; they have taken all the other crossings in the area. They are merely consolidating their gains and taking all the territory they can and eliminating any resistance.

On this map, the gray area is that controlled by ISIS. Note that they already control a large portion of the border with Turkey. Kobane - which I have circled in red - is the remaining pocket of resistance in that area north of al-Raqqah.

According to the Pentagon, the defense of Kobane was never an assigned mission. In my assessment, without embedded American military tactical air controllers on the ground, it is doubtful that we would have been able to turn back the ISIS wave - they vastly outnumbered and outgunned the Syrian Kurdish fighters.

Al-Anbar Province/West of Baghdad

I used this map on CNN this weekend. The red X is an Iraqi military installation overrun by ISIS last week, leaving many US-manufactured and supplied armored personnel carriers intact to ISIS. ISIS has moved from Fallujah toward Abu Ghraib, placing them within artillery range of Baghdad airport - the ramifications of that are huge. ISIS has previously moved to the Sunni areas just south of Baghdad - these areas were the targets of the very first US airstrikes weeks ago.

Today, mortar rounds were fired into the Green Zone of Baghdad. So with ISIS able to strike the city, where is the Iraqi Army?

According to news reports today, the Iraqis have tried to dislodge ISIS from these areas west of Baghdad, and failed. It has gotten so bad that the U.S. has had to employ the AH-64 Apache helicopters stationed at Baghdad airport.

The Apache is an excellent weapon; its use would indicate that the Iraqis are in pretty dire straits and more firepower in a close air support role is needed. However, the helicopters operate within the threat envelope of air defense weapons known to be in ISIS hands.

The situation around Baghdad is much more critical than that in northern Syria. We need to address this immediately. Now might be the time for Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey to go to the President and talk about American "boots on the ground."