There are two obvious weaknesses with the Obama administration’s plan to “degrade and destroy” the Islamic State (aka ISIS or ISIL) in Iraq and Syria: Weak partners on the ground, especially in Syria, and the further emboldened Syrian regime of Bashar Assad.
Both are increasingly problematic as the broad campaign unfolds.
The US-backed Iraqi military keeps losing ground to ISIS militants who are consolidating their hold on the western Anbar province and inching toward Baghdad.
As for Syria, on Wednesday Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby flatly told reporters: “We don’t have a willing, capable, effective partner on the ground inside Syria. It’s just a fact. I can’t change that.”
And Anne Barnard and Eric Schmidt of The New York Times report that the Syrian government has stepped up aerial bombardments of rebel-held areas as American warplanes target ISIS infrastructure.
“It would be silly for [Assad and his allies] not to take advantage of the US doing airstrikes,” one official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss confidential intelligence reports, told The Times. “They’ve focused in the west and left off the east, where we are operating. Essentially, we’ve allowed them to perform an economy of force. They don’t have to be focused all over the country, just on those who threaten their population centers.”
That stakes are high as Assad and ISIS both aim to eradicate nationalist rebels seeking to topple the regime, and they are on the verge of doing so.
The relatively moderate opposition forces — including thousands of defectors from the Syrian army — are currently being squeezed by both Assad’s troops and ISIS fighters in Syria’s largest city, Aleppo, and a new ISIS offensive threatens to cut off FSA rebel supply lines to Turkey.
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