More Planes Than Targets: Why the Air War on ISIS Will Fail

Britain has now joined a US-led campaign to weaken and ultimately defeat Isis in which air power is very much the dominant component. The British contribution will not make much difference because there are already far more aircraft available than there are identifiable targets.

The coalition has conducted 59,015 sorties in Iraq and Syria starting in August 2014, of which only 8,573 have resulted in air strikes, indicating that the great majority of planes return to their bases without having used their weapons.

Even if Britain’s role is symbolic at this stage, it has joined a very real war against an enemy of great ferocity and experience, not least of air attacks. The highly informed Turkish military analystMetin Gurcan, writing on Al-Monitor website, says that air strikes may have been effective against Isis communications and training facilities, but adds that “it is extraordinary that there is not a single [Isis] control facility that has been hit by allied air strikes”.

This is not for lack of trying and shows that talk of destroying Isis command and control centres in Raqqa is wishful thinking, given that 2,934 American air strikes in Syria have failed to do so over the last 14 months.

Air strikes have had an impact on Isis’s tactics and casualty rate, above all when they are used in close co-operation with a well-organised ground force like the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). Isis may have lost as many as 2,200 fighters at Kobani which is a small and closely packed city. On the other hand, the length of time it took to drive Isis out of it with 700 air strikes demonstrated their fighters’ willingness to die.

Many Isis commanders reportedly regard their tactics at Kobani as a mistake which cost the group too many casualties and which it should not repeat. To do so it sacrificed two of its most important military assets which are  mobility and surprise.

This does not mean that it will not fight to the last bullet for cities like Raqqa and Mosul, but it did not do so for Tikrit and Sinjar where it used snipers, booby traps and IEDs, but did not commit large detachments of troops.

Isis has modified its tactics to take account of the continuing risk of air strikes. It now has a decentralised command structure, with tactical decisions being taken by leaders of small units of eight to 10 men, whose overall mission is determined from the centre – but not how it should be accomplished. This limits the ability of its opponents to monitor its communications.

Its forces assemble swiftly and attack soon afterwards with multiple diversionary operations, as was seen when Mosul was captured in June 2014 and again when they took Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, this May.

They had been fighting their way into Baiji refinery, but this turned out to be a diversion and Isis units pulled back from there as soon as Ramadi fell.

Isis’s approach is to use a mixture of conventional, guerrilla and terrorist tactics, none unique in themselves, but they have never been used before in combination. Air strikes mean that it is less able to use captured tanks or big concentrations of vehicles packed with fighters. Instead it uses IEDs, booby traps, snipers and mortar teams in even greater numbers.

Public martyrdom as an expression of religious faith is such a central part of its ideology that it can deploy suicide bombers on foot or in vehicles in great numbers to destroy fortifications and demoralize the enemy. Some 28 suicide bombers were reportedly used in the final stages of the battle for Ramadi. Psychological warfare has always been an important element of Isis’s tactical armory. It has sought to terrify opposition forces by showing videos in which captured Iraqi or Syrian soldiers are filmed being ritually decapitated or shot in the head.

Sometimes, the families of Syrian soldiers get a phone call from their son’s mobile with a picture of his body with his severed head on his chest. Mass killings of prisoners have taken place after all Isis’s victories (the al-Qaeda affiliate, al-Nusra Front, does the same thing).

Heavy air attack will increase Isis’s losses and it will be more difficult to bring in foreign volunteers through Turkey because most of the border is now closed. But Isis rules an area with a population of at least six million and conscripts all young men, who often want to become fighters because there is no other employment. Isis may have a fighting force of 100,000 men, as is strongly suggested by the very long front lines it holds and its ability to make multiple attacks simultaneously. Whatever Britain’s role, we will be fighting a formidable military machine.

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Jimmy Carter Provides Putin With Maps for ISIS Strikes

Claiming that he knows Russian President Vladimir Putin "fairly well" because they once discussed their "common interest in fly fishing," former President Jimmy Carter took the initiative to provide maps of Islamic State positions in Syria to the Russian embassy in Washington — a move at odds with the Obama administration, The Washington Free Beacon reports.
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Russia Manages Solution of Syrian Conflict with Integrated Vision

Russia is working in combining several components to find a prompt political solution to the conflict in Syria, said today the official spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova.

We departed from a comprehensive approach to the Syrian crisis, and from exploiting all the possibilities for a peaceful solution to the situation, said Zakharova in declarations to Prensa Latina during a working meeting with foreign journalists.

She said that along with the military component of 'support to the Syrian army in the fight against terrorists', Moscow deploys an intense diplomatic effort to bring to fruition the negotiating process between the political forces in that country.

Zakharova spoke further of the permanent contact with the authorities in Damascus via the Foreign Ministry channel, even with a role played by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and representatives of the opposition and internal organizations based abroad.

The third block is aimed at the premises for a direct dialogue between the Syrians, said the official spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, mentioning the two conferences held between Syrian parties in Moscow this year.

Russia, insisted Zakharova to this agency, gives importance to the contacts with other international actors in the Syrian issue, both bi- and multilaterally, at the request of formats and international forums such as the UN.

She said that a greater influence of major players on the opposition is required, across the spectrum, in order to realize steps with a lasting perspective, towards a peaceful settlement of the conflict in the Arab nation.

Zakharova recalled that the Syrian crisis is a reflection of a conflict of regional interests, hence we consider a mistake the exclusion of Iran from the peace process, she said.

In this regard she argued that the United States insists on a negotiating format reduced to the exclusive presence of Saudi Arabia and Turkey, and blocks any possibility of Iran's inclusion in the different formats on Syria, as proposed by Russia.

Along with starting a large-scale air operation over Syrian territory against the positions of the Islamic State and other extremist groups, Moscow coordinated the creation of an information center based in Baghdad, to exchange intel with Iran, Iraq and Syria in the fight against terrorism in the Middle East.

The spokesperson considered that the Syrian conflict reached a decisive stage in which the main task is the fight against international terrorism, and called on all those involved in one way or another to "put aside their own interests and not miss the chance to seal that problem forever."

In a surprise meeting in Moscow with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, President Bashar Al Assad acknowledged that without Russia's actions, terrorism would have expanded in the region and would have occupied more territories in Syria.

Informing Putin of the plans by government forces in their offensive against important terrorist enclaves such as Aleppo, Latakia and Idlib, Assad expressed the desire to continue the coordination, both militarily and in the economic reconstruction and the political recovery of the country, reported the Rossia 24 channel.

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