By Stewart Webb
This is one of those headlines you probably won’t find attached to any of a number of trite LinkedIn articles flying around the Internet: “How casual sex taught me the dangers of isolated air power application in fledgling military campaigns.” Catchy, I know. Why, you may ask? Both are, well, complex situations.
U.S. Air Force General Michael Hayden (also former director of both the CIA and the National Security Agency) agrees. General Hayden told American media that “The reliance on air power has all of the attraction of casual sex: It seems to offer gratification but with very little commitment.”
The first rule that applies to either situation is prepare yourself. You are going out and want to look and act your best. Canada’s first step was to send soldiers from the Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR) to train members of the Iraqi army and Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga militia forces in the finer secrets of calling in close air support. An admirable start as Russia is starting to deliver new Su-25 fighter jets and Mi-25 attack helicopters as part of the defence deal they signed in 2012.
Canada sent a contingent six CF-18s, two Aurora surveillance aircraft, a Polaris refuelling plane and about 600 Canadian Armed Forces personnel to Iraq to aid U.S. efforts to combat the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). The motion snuck through Parliament by a mere 23 votes.
Canada’s commitment is similar to that of our Australian and Dutch allies. However, the Dutch scaled back their initial involvement of 10 F-16s to just six fighter aircraft given the state of their F-16 fleet. The Australians, on the other hand, committed eight new warplanes, including six of its new F/A-18F Super Hornets they bought as a stop-gap measure until the F-35 is ready. This is something the Harper government has not considered.
Which brings us to this casual sex scenario: One goes to the bar and looks around the room and there are attractive targets everywhere, or so it seems. You meet one person who has an irritating voice or mentions a significant other back home. You are soon disappointed to realize that there aren’t many potential targets. At the time of writing this, few ISIS targets have presented themselves in Iraq and follows suit with this simile.
Australia’s first combat mission resulted in finding nothing. Britain destroyed two vehicles in its second round of air strikes and the Dutch destroyed ISIS vehicles that were attacking Kurdish peshmergas with three bombs.
It seems that Canada’s CF-18 commitment has more to do with freeing up willing aircraft to launch air strikes in Syria than it does with hitting ISIS where it hurts.
Conducting air strikes alone is like being the outspoken guy at the bar, making a lot of noise and generating attention for himself. With this strategy, you run the risk of being drawn in and trapped in a relationship after a one-night stand. It is doubtful that Canada will deploy ground troops to Iraq to fulfil an active combat role against ISIS. That role belongs solely to the Iraqi Army and the Kurdish peshmergas to the north.
Unfortunately, this is only half of the problem as ISIS also controls parts of Syria. At the moment, a plan is still being discussed and debated about the Syrian question. The U.S. has developed a plan to train moderate Syrian rebels, but has shown admirable restraint. The training of the moderate Syrian rebels might also constitute an act of regime change, as the rebels would continue their offensive against Assad-government forces.
This policy might become a hangover for the U.S. and its coalition allies. The arming of the various Kurdish militias has also raised criticism from some commentators and the Turkish government. It has raised concerns that those armaments given to the Iraqi Kurds to fend off ISIS will fall into the hands of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) — a group with which the Turkish government has fought a 30-year insurgency.
Another issue that should be raised is the future of ISIS after the bombs are dropped. If the Iraqi Army and Kurdish peshmergas can squeeze ISIS out of Iraq, what future does ISIS have?
It is becoming clear that various militant groups in North Africa, including al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), are fracturing along ISIS/anti-ISIS lines. If ISIS becomes cornered, it may try to branch out to approachable splinter groups. Algerian security services are already apprehensive about Algerian fighters returning to the region. Armed with battlefield experience, training, and being part of a group that declared its own caliphate might breed a more formidable foe.
Which brings us to the last part of a casual hook up — waking up and rolling over completely overwhelmed with regret from the night before. A lot more needs to be done or we may roll over and regret our decisions. ISIS may branch out to North Africa and take advantage of the deteriorating situation in Libya and the greater Maghreb. Kurdish separatists may continue their fight for independence and disrupt what is left of the region’s stability.
There are a lot of variables and we should be taking precautionary measures or we could find ourselves on a second date.