By Scott Taylor
Last week, Canadian fighter planes based in Kuwait began flying operational sorties against ISIS targets in central Iraq. With Canadian media prohibited from visiting the Kuwaiti airstrip due to objections from the host nation, any information pertaining to these air strikes comes in the form of official Defence Department news releases.
Given that there are literally no international or official Iraqi government observers within the ISIS-controlled territory in Iraq, there will be absolutely no way to confirm any claims of success by Canada and its allied pilots.
Granted, American air strikes around the embattled Syrian town of Kobani have greatly assisted its Kurdish defenders, but there are actually defined front lines in that tactical scenario. What becomes more difficult to understand is how the United States and allied air forces intend to downgrade ISIS with a strategic bombing campaign.
The Second World War bombing offensive targeted Hitler’s defence production facilities, transportation hubs and fuel resources; ISIS possesses none of these. The heavy weapons and armoured vehicles that ISIS employs were captured en masse last spring after the U.S.-equipped Iraqi army simply melted away.
Another major source of the ISIS arsenal comes in the form of weapons and munitions purchased by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that were then funnelled with covert U.S. and Turkish assistance into the hands of Syrian rebels opposed to President Bashar al-Assad. It was only well into that bloody civil war that western officials began to realize that Assad’s most successful opponents were, in fact, Islamic extremists bent on imposing Sharia law and creating their own caliphate.
The missiles provided to the rebels to even the odds against Assad’s air force have now been used to shoot down Iraqi government helicopters; they also pose a modest threat to Canadian fighter planes.
With luck, the allied air strikes might manage to eliminate some ammunition dumps and pounce on any identifiable vehicle that happens to be caught out in the open. However, now that it is understood that the allies are flying combat air strikes, one can presume that ISIS will refrain from their previous demonstrations of authority and cease driving around in convoys flying their telltale black flags.
For nearly 11 years, the U.S. occupation force had tens of thousands of combat troops based in central Iraq, an area described as the Sunni Triangle. Cities such as Fallujah, Ramadi and Tikrit were the centres of the fiercest anti-U.S. insurgent attacks.
During what was known as the surge strategy in 2006, the U.S. mounted major offensives to drive al-Qaida from the Sunni Triangle. That they were largely successful had more to do with the fact that the Americans purchased the loyalty of the Sunni tribal chieftains.
When these moderate Sunnis joined forces with the U.S., there was nowhere for the al-Qaida operatives to hide. However, after the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops in December 2011, the Shiite majority government under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ignored all international advice and once again marginalized the Sunni tribes. It was this development that provided ISIS with the fertile environment to flourish.
The disgruntled Sunnis — many of whom are secular moderates — see the ISIS-Sunni extremists as their only salvation. Thus, the question: With no U.S. troops on the ground, no bribe money being handed out to tribal leaders and with the Iraqi army virtually dissolved, why does anyone believe that an air campaign alone will achieve success this time around?
Canada announced it will be buying more than 400 new sets of smart bombs to provide our pilots with more precise, all-weather attack capability. Chief of Defence Staff Tom Lawson has told the media that a six-month window in which to achieve success is a little optimistic. So while we are stockpiling our guided munitions and being officially braced for a lengthy campaign, the only goal being discussed as a result of air strikes is the downgrading of the ISIS combat capability.
We are helping to arm and train Kurds to resist ISIS while insisting that a unified, democratic Iraq is the ultimate utopian objective. The Kurds, of course, want nothing to do with a central Baghdad authority and instead are intent on creating their own state. The Shiites have demonstrated they are not magnanimous enough to share authority with the Sunnis, and the Sunnis in turn have shown a fanatical resistance to Shiite authority.
One would have thought we might have learned a lesson or two from the Libya fiasco, where we bombed a dictator into oblivion only to plunge that nation into violent anarchy.
This time around, we are not even sure who we are bombing in support of, just who we are bombing against: ISIS.