The Pentagon and the Obama Administration announced yesterday that a team of between 100 and 200 special operations forces will be sent to Iraq to hunt down ISIS leadership and key intelligence. While this may sound like a solid move against the terror group, the timing of this deployment is just another symptom of a failed anti-ISIS strategy which has been behind the ball since it began.
This new force is a supposedly a total package that includes support aviation, logistics and intelligence elements, as well as a few dozen “shooters” that will actually be kicking down doors, taking down targeted facilities and executing snatch-and-grab missions.
Units like the U.S. Navy SEALs, Delta Force, along with their civilian intelligence counterparts, have honed their human-tracking skills over a decade and a half of nightly raids in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is brutal, arduous and dangerous work that does not benefit in any way from the long lead time and never ending preparation, like the Bin Laden raid. This is old-school, actionable intelligence-centric special warfare reminiscent of Task Force 121.
Sounds like the kid gloves are coming off against ISIS, right? Unleash our special forces on the bad guys and let them go about their business. Well, yes, putting together such a force to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria is a no brainer, but the sad part is that it took close to a year and half to realize this. Why wasn’t such a task force deployed long ago, before ISIS could adapt to American military involvement in the region?
We know special operations capabilities have been based in the region and have executed raids deep inside Syrian territory against ISIS before. Yet once again, these were “a la carte” missions, approved at the highest level (and micromanaged accordingly.) This is very different than having a forward deployed force go about their deadly game on a daily basis largely on their own terms.
The fact that the Obama Administration just approved such a force to be deployed to Iraq is just another reminder of how reactionary our fight against the Islamic State has been. And although a special operations task force can work wonders at striking ISIS where it hurts most, and instilling anxiety in its operators, it cannot hold ground or really take ground for that matter.
As long as ISIS continues to hold the ground it does, even against the most powerful military in the world and their allies, they are winning this war. Defeating the Islamic State cannot be done on a large scale with medium-altitude un-aided precision bombing or with special operations raids.
Make no mistake about it, when the White House, including President Obama himself, says ISIS is contained, it is a flat-out lie, or even worse a delusion, that even the Pentagon’s chief military personnel don’t adhere to. At the least, this has been a campaign to buy time until the next election to where it’s somebody else’s problem; at best it is a failed containment operation. And sadly, although they can put pressure on ISIS leadership, collect key intelligence, rescue hostages, and execute other valuable tasks, 100 or so special operations personnel will not change these facts.
There have long been allegations over the disconnect between what the White House wants to be true when it comes to ISIS and the War on Terror, and what is actually true. But this denial of the realities on the ground in key conflict zones may have bled from the White House into the intelligence apparatus itself, with intelligence operatives and officials coming out saying reports were cooked at the White House’s request.
In order to defeat ISIS on a military and public relations level, the U.S. will need to rapidly decrease the territory ISIS controls. Anything else is just adhering to a new normal and/or buying time—during which time this enemy is only becoming stronger and more adaptable.
This will require far more than what a small hunter-killer task force can provide and it will also demand a clear and realistic interpretation of the situation on the ground at the highest levels.
Photo credit AP
Contact the author at Tyler@jalopnik.com.