Leadership: Why ISIL Survives Air Strikes And Commandos


November 24, 2015: In early November the United States announced that it was going to carry out more commando raids and air strikes against ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) in Iraq and Syria. Until then no one else, not even the Arab states most directly threatened by ISIL, were willing to send in ground forces. The U.S. will send fewer than a hundred commandos, who will work with their Kurdish counterparts. The Kurdish commandos have been trained by the American since the 1990s and have a track record the Americans trust. The Americans only carried out two such raids in 2015. One in May killed a senior ISIL leader and captured his wife (wanted for war crimes) and seized seven terabytes (seven million megabytes) of ISIL records. This led to some more damaging air raids and a much better understanding of how ISIL was organized in Iraq and Syria and where new targets were likely to show up. The intelligence bonanza is said to be why there will be an increase in the number of American airstrikes against ISIL.

Left unsaid is the fact that the Arab allies in this air war against ISIL have largely withdrawn their aircraft from Syrian operations and shifted them to fighting Shia rebels in Yemen or ISIL in Iraq. Same with Western allies. Thus just to maintain the tempo of airstrikes in Syria the United States would have to do more of it themselves. That changed after the November 13th ISIL attack in Paris and now there are at least more pledges of action against ISIL in Syria.

It is unlikely more American air strikes or talk about commando operations will make a difference and that is because the U.S. refuses to do anything about the very restrictive ROE (Rules of Engagement) used so far. ISIL has exploited this ROE by widely using human shields at many of its key bases. This recently led to ISIL putting hundreds of Shia into steel cages and moving them around by truck to where an air strike was anticipated. ISIL put pictures of these caged human shields and in general dared the United States to hit a target protected by caged Shia. In the past the American ROE and ISIL use of human shields meant that the most important ISIL facilities were untouched by the bombing campaign. It also meant that numerous trucks carrying material for ISIL (like oil for export) were untouched lest a civilian driver be killed. American intelligence analysts have been leaking accusations have leaked information about this including being ordered to modify their reports about the impact of the air campaign to hide the fact that a lot of the ISIL targets hit were secondary ones ISIL did not see worth deploying human shields  to.

The Arab air forces in Yemen (where there are no pesky Americans to interfere) and the Russians in Syria have an ROE that ignores human shields and bombs all targets of military value. In Iraq and Syria the Arab air forces were operating under American rules, which meant a lot of targets that would normally be hit (as the Arabs have been doing in Yemen) could not be. The Iraqi Air Force has a less restrictive ROE because it is less alarming to Iraqis if their own aircraft bomb Iraqi civilians (while going after an ISIL target) than is foreign aircraft do it.

While the Americans will probably keep the current ROE in Iraq it appears that that ROE will be applied with fewer of its restrictions in Syria.






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