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U.S. Fiasco in Iraq/Syria: Big War Effort for Small Results

Sept. 30, 2014 (EIRNS)—British Royal Air Force Tornado attack jets, flying from Cyprus, finally dropped their first bombs on Iraq, today, in support of Kurdish pesh merga fighters engaged in combat with ISIS forces. The fact that it took them four days and at least five missions (with two aircraft each) after the House of Commons vote approving British military action in Iraq, is perhaps indicative of the fiasco that President Obama’s war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria has become. As retired DIA analyst Col. Patrick Lang has noted on his blog, Obama’s strategy has too many moving parts to stand much of a chance at success, and this is just another one.

In Syria, the Free Syrian Army, is complaining bitterly that they have been left out of the US war effort entirely and that the air strikes are actually hurting them. According to Reuters, they say that they can’t go on the offensive against either ISIS or Assad’s army as long as Assad’s air force, which hasn’t been targeted by any of the US-led air strikes, is able to operate. FSA chief of staff General Abdul-ilah Al Bashir also said that his only source of information about US air strikes in Syria is the news media. "They didn’t let us know and didn’t co-ordinate with us, even until now. As an armed force we haven’t been briefed," he said. He also said that the attacks have had little effect on ISIS. "In terms of the strikes against ISIS, these were concentrated on oil refineries and ISIS headquarters," he said. "A very limited number of fighters were killed as a result." The "vetted" rebel groups in Syria are handled by the CIA, not by the US military, and they therefore have no capability of coordinating with the US-led air campaign.

In Kobani, in central Syria on the Turkish border, the air strikes have had little to no effect on the ISIS offensive to take that city, according to numerous news reports from the Turkish side of the border. "Instead of pushing them back, now every time they hear the planes, they shell more," Ahmad Sheikho, an activist operating along the Syria-Turkey border, told AP. The Turkish army has placed tanks on a hillside overlooking the city, but is preventing Kurdish reinforcements from joining the fight on the other side of the border.

Reports of civilian casualties in the US air strikes are becoming more prominent, too, forcing the Pentagon to answer to them. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported, yesterday, that a number of civilians were killed in yesterday’s air strike on grain silos in Manbij. "There was no ISIS inside," Observatory director Rami Abdurrahman told AP. The air strikes, he said, "destroyed the food that was stored there." This, of course, is being denied by the Pentagon. "So far after all the air strikes, we have nothing to confirm that there were civilian casualties," spokesman Colonel Steven Warren told reporters, yesterday. US Central Command described the grain facility, in a press release, as an ISIS "logistics hub and vehicle staging facility."

In Iraq, the US military has 1,600 troops on the ground, including a couple of hundred staffing to joint operations centers in Baghdad and Irbil, thereby providing a greater degree of coordination between the bombers in the air and the Iraqi and Kurdish troops on the ground. Yet ISIS has overrun two Iraqi army garrisons about an hour west of Baghdad in the past ten days or so. A senior US Air Force official told reporters at the Pentagon, yesterday, that ISIS has changed its tactics in response to the air campaign, making targeting more difficult. "[T]hey are now dispersing themselves to allow themselves situations to be more survivable, if you will, which requires us to work harder to locate them and develop the situation to appropriately target them," said Air Force Maj. Gen. Jeff Harrigian, assistant chief of staff of operations, plans, and requirements.

To gain such minuscule results, US aircraft have flown 4,100 sorties over Iraq and Syria, an unnamed military source told AFP, including 1,400 air refueling sorties, as of Sept. 27. Hundreds more of the 4,100 have been for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR). Pentagon Press Secretary RAdm. John Kirby reported today that there have now been more than 230 air strikes in Iraq and 76 in Syria.

"Bombing has not been decisive in any recent conflict. Far from it. It has been counterproductive and an expensive waste," wrote the Guardian’s Richard Norton-Taylor, in a commentary posted, today. He cites a number of examples, including the two earlier Gulf Wars in which pilots quickly ran out of targets, and the 1999 bombing of Serbia, during which lots of large, fixed infrastructural targets were obliterated, but the Serb army was almost untouched. He could have added Israel’s recent war in Gaza, in which they failed to stop the rockets or achieve their desired strategic outcome, despite turning most of the strip into rubble in a bombing campaign that probably ranks among history’s most devastating on a per-square-kilometer basis.