Photo of the ISIS flag spray painted on a cargo container in an article on the Islamic State by LTC Allen West on the Old School Patriot.

Defeating ISIS

In Foreign Policy, Front Page, Military by Allen West

I want to convey my sincere condolences to the families of our US Servicemen who lost their lives recently in Syria. As well, I pray that those wounded will have a swift recovery.

It is always good to take time to read and assess the situation before offering any commentary and analysis on such a grave matter. I have already offered my analysis of President Trump’s somewhat disconcerting decision to “tweet” out his plan to withdraw our 2,000+ troops from the Syrian theater of operations. This missive is not about that specific action, but my assessment of what we should do in the aftermath of the suicide bomber attack.

As reported by Fox News:

“Four Americans were among several people killed by a suicide blast that struck near a U.S.-led coalition patrol in Syria on Wednesday. 

Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS, originally confirmed that U.S. service members were killed during the explosion while conducting a routine patrol in the country. Later, U.S. Central Command said in a news release: 

“Two U.S. servicemembers, one Department of Defense (DoD) civilian and one contractor supporting DoD were killed and three servicemembers were injured while conducting a local engagement in Manbij, Syria, Jan. 16, 2019.”

The suicide attack hit near the main market in the northern city of Manbij, witnesses told Reuters.

The U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported 16 people were killed in the incident, although officials have not confirmed the number of casualties. 

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the blast, saying one of its members carried out a suicide attack and detonated his vest with explosives.

The Observatory and the Kurdish-led Manbij Military Council, which runs the town, also said a suicide bomber was involved but did not immediately have any further details.”

This is my advice: do not make declarations about an enemy being defeated unless they have signed documentation of surrender or capitulation. Anyone continuing to say that ISIS has been defeated is, well, delusional. Words do have meaning in military operations and the word defeat means that the enemy is no longer able to pursue their goals and objectives. Given that definition, ISIS is hardly defeated. The correct terminology is to articulate that the territorial integrity of ISIS has been severely diminished. One can even present a percentage accomplished to that fact.

An enemy that is still capable of planning and executing a suicide bomber attack is not defeated. Their capacity and capability have been degraded and they are limited in the scale and scope of operations they can conduct . . . but they are not defeated. There can be no debate that using such language has caused ISIS to prove that they have, indeed, not been defeated.

As well, our civilian elected officials should be careful about when they declare victory. I said this during the Obama administration, and will reiterate the same point, “the enemy always has a vote.” We must comprehend that issuing out a tweet saying that you are quitting is not comparative to declaring victory.

We who have served in the military in combat units know the risk. But I do have to ask why were our forces inside such a crowded area, near a market? That reduces the ability to cordon off and secure the area of potential threats. The enemy has not been eliminated, and our forces on the ground need to be as aware as ever.

Now, the question moving forward: should we, indeed, completely withdraw our ground forces from the Syrian theater of operations? Here are my considerations:

– Doing so now becomes a propaganda win for ISIS and will be used to rally fighters in order to reconstitute their forces.

– I have read open source intel estimates that put ISIS’ strength at 15K or more fighters. Just for comparison, a US Army light infantry division is about 12K troops . . . that number includes support and logistics elements. There is still a very dedicated and concentrated force and obviously decentralized yet still deadly. We need to continue to work as part of a coalition with the Kurdish forces, along with the UK and France.

– Our immediate withdrawal will result in more Turkish influence, and we know that President Erdogan of Turkey enabled ISIS in the first place.

– Any withdrawal from Syria has to be what we call “conditions-based” and not just an arbitrary time.

My thoughts on Afghanistan, if you ask: if we are not going to engage the Islamic jihadist training camps and sanctuaries in Pakistan . . . then yes, we need to stop wasting our time.

Where do we go from here?

First, we work more with coalitions, and that includes in Europe against the growing threat from Russia.

Second, we stop with the nation-building focus and do more strike operations to deny the enemy sanctuaries and bases of operation. In Syria, we need to clearly identify the ISIS pockets and conduct coalition strike operations to reduce it and choke off any escape. The goal of our operation in Syria is one thing: kill anyone aligned with ISIS. That may sound harsh, well, that is what combat is all about, it is about killing the enemy, imposing your will upon him.

I know that there have been those who state that we cannot kill our way out of this situation with Islamic jihadists. Okay, well, if we cannot have tea and a chat with these cheeky fellows, that reduces the viable courses of action . . . killing them sends a message. Tweets do not work.