The Islamic State has been operating with its quasi-state system since it started to capture large swaths of land in Iraq and Syria in April of 2013. You may have heard of this group referred to as ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq) and the Levant, or Daesh (an acronym in Arabic). As Dr. Sebastian Gorka points out, repeatedly in his book Defeating Jihad, and when he appears on cable news networks throughout the Country, we must be able to call our enemy what it is. The totalitarian ideology of radical Islamists is our generation’s Nazi or Soviet Union. To win this war with the global Islamist movement we first have to call them what they are. You cannot win a war if you do not know who you are fighting.
It seems that with the election of President Trump, the majority of the American people have been fed up with the corrosiveness of political correctness. As both President Trump’s supporters and his opponents know, he is not politically correct and will not fail to call out the enemy. So now we have named our enemy as the global Islamist movement, with the Islamic State on its front cover after surpassing what Al Qaeda failed to do. Al Qaeda’s failure was in not gaining a foothold in the Middle East and holding vast territories as the Islamic State has done. This serves as a great propaganda tool, in which the Islamic State flaunts and uses in its global recruitment efforts.
Fast forward from April of 2013 to where we are today, Iraq and Syria are a political nightmare. The Iraqi government, with help from both the US Special Forces, and Iranian-led Shiite militias have been taken back and now control roughly sixty-five percent of their state. The Kurdish forces in Iraq control about twenty-five percent of Iraqi territory. Leaving the last ten percent in Northern Iraq along the Syrian-Iraqi border either in control of the Islamic State or unoccupied. In Iraq, the biggest battle raging is between Iraqi government forces and the Islamic State in the city of Mosul. The Tigris River splits the city of Mosul in half from north to south. As of February 22nd, the Iraqi government forces hold the eastern half of the city, as well as capturing key features south of the city to overlook the western half of Mosul.
In Syria, there is a much larger mess. The Syrian government led by President Al Assad controls large parts of western Syria including many major cities such as Aleppo, Homs, and the Capitol Damascus. The Syrian government forces have been backed by both the Russians and the Iranians who have strategic interests in keeping their ally President Assad in power. The Islamic State holds large portions of Syria, in which their self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa exists. The Free Syrian Army has seen most of its moderate forces bulldozed by radical militants such as the Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria known as Al-Nusra. They are holding on to some portions of the country as well. Just as in Iraq, the Kurdish forces hold a large amount of territory in Syria. US Special Forces are also assisting with Kurdish operations on the ground. The Kurdish Peshmerga fighting the Islamic State must also deal with threats from their north in Turkey. Yes, our ally in Turkey is not fond of its Kurdish population and sees a strong Kurdish force gaining ground in Iraq and Syria as a threat to its national security.
Now that we are caught up, what is the next move? There are many options on the table. We will more than likely continue our air raids on IS targets in both Iraq and Syria. We will also likely continue to have Special Forces troops helping support Iraqi forces. But what else can we do? President Trump has said that he believes safe zones must be set up in Syria and operated and paid for by our regional allies there. If the President fulfills his hopes of setting up these safe zones, it will only help quell the refugee flows out of the country and house internally displaced persons inside Syria. President Trump gave Defense Secretary General Mattis thirty days to come up with a plan to defeat the Islamic State, and we are almost to that thirty-day mark. It will be interesting to see what the Secretary of Defense suggests to defeat the Islamic State. The head of US Central Command, General Votel, has said recently that he believed an option would be for the US to take on a larger role in combating IS.
The American public is still war-weary after fighting in Afghanistan since 2001 and in Iraq from 2003-2011. Will the Secretary of Defense suggest a large scale invasion of Syria to destroy the Islamic State? If so, what is next? I’m sure these questions are flowing through their minds since the President has repeatedly spoken out against nation building. There are so many paths that this war could take. Will we see Iraq united once more as a secular state? Will we see the Kurdish people finally gain independence and have their own sovereign state established? Will Syria be torn apart into separate states along ethnic lines? We will have to wait and see.
A website that has generally good up to date maps on the conflicts in Syria, as well as elsewhere is http://isis.liveuamap.com/