Politico has a great story running right now: ISIL Is Winning — Fourteen years after terror struck the U.S., our strategy to defeat terrorism is failing.
Unfortunately, it’s a pretty long article that most people will probably find too long to read. As such, I thought I’d cut and paste some key graphs from the article.
At the tenth anniversary of 9/11, it seemed like we had terrorism on the run; Osama bin Laden was dead, the Taliban was defeated and officials like CIA director Leon Panetta had proclaimed al Qaeda all but finished. But as we mark on Friday the 14th anniversary of the devastating attacks on the United States, it’s time to admit that the terrorists—at least one specific branch of terrorists—are now winning. And it’s time to admit that our response to the so-called Islamic State has been an abject failure.
Last year, fighters belonging to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a group once part of the same organization responsible for the 9/11 attacks stormed into Iraq, conquered half that country, declared itself both a state and a Caliphate and set about to slaughter and enslave thousands of Christians, Shi’a, and members of Islamic minority sects. Fifteen months later, ISIL’s influence has spread far beyond the Levant and Mesopotamia. A thousand foreign recruits converge monthly on its operational cynosure. Hailing from some fifty countries they exceed by a factor of ten the average monthly flow of foreign fighters to Iraq at even the height of the war there a decade ago.
ISIL’s international cadre has also far exceeded the number that gravitated to Afghanistan during and the 1980s and 1990s. That growth creates the same conditions—but on a far vaster magnitude—that led to al Qaeda’s rise and the attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., on 9/11.
The temptation to dismiss these developments as primarily “local” phenomena—confined to the perennially violent, unstable Middle East—is further belied both by the growing number of ISIL branches or “provinces” and its continued efforts to radicalize a worldwide stable of “stay-behind” amateurs, whom the group encourages to carry out low-level, lethal attacks in their respective homelands. To date, ISIL has established bases in at least a half-dozen countries: stretching from West and North Africa to the Arabian Peninsula and from the Sinai to South Asia and the Caucasus. And, over the past year alone, ISIL-inspired homegrown attacks have occurred in the U.S., Australia, Canada, France and Belgium.
ISIL is something the world has never seen before. During the summer of 2014, for example, it launched a battalion-sized assault and defeated 30,000 U.S.-trained Iraqi soldiers. As the defenders fled, they left behind approximately three military divisions’ worth of equipment, including American-made Humvees and M1 Abrams tanks, totaling tens of millions of dollars. ISIL had already seized large stockpiles of weapons, equipment and cash while fighting in Syria and has recently employed chemical weapons on several occasions. The size, weapons and tactics of ISIL forces—combined with their ability to seize and hold terrain—are arguably unique in the annals of terrorism.
We have to accept that Iraq has ceased to exist as a viable federal union and has now permanently splintered into Sunni, Shi’a and Kurdish enclaves. In these circumstances, our best option is to back the only reliable and militarily capable partners we have there—the Kurds. To date, both the Kurdish Peshmerga and YPG or People’s Protection Unit, its Syrian counterparts, are the only local forces who have demonstrated any effective ability to counter ISIL. Yet, American support of both is hamstrung by a misplaced deference to Turkey’s priorities—a NATO ally who has often proven as unhelpful in the war on terrorism in the Levant as Pakistan has been in South Asia.
I’m pretty much an eternal optimist, but even I can’t really dispute the facts of this article.
Keep the faith,
Stan R. Mitchell
About me: write military action books similar to Vince Flynn, Stephen Hunter, and Tom Clancy. I’m also a prior USMC Sgt with Combat Action Ribbon, and a guy who spent 10+ years writing every day in the newspaper business — 9 of them with a newspaper that I started. Please consider subscribing for email alerts — I mostly post about American foreign policy, national security, and all things Marine Corps.