Iraq crisis: US precision attacks will hurt the jihadists but they won’t defeat them

 

Share

US air strikes aimed at stopping Isis from advancing on Baghdad or taking more territory would be very different from previous American air campaigns in Iraq in 1991, 2003 and during the guerrilla campaign against the US occupation between 2004 and the departure of US troops in 2011.

This time the US would be looking for vehicles carrying Isis fighters or for fighters moving on foot. Air strikes against them would be effective in breaking up ground attacks if these are directed by highly trained US forward air controllers operating on the front line. The US fought this sort of war in Afghanistan in 2001 when its air power operated on behalf of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance. It was also successful in northern Iraq in 2003 when the US Air Force was supporting the Kurds advancing on Mosul and Kirkuk. 

Air strikes of this type would very likely succeed in giving the Iraqi army and Shia militias the edge over the Sunni rebels in holding Baghdad. US intervention would help restore the battered morale of the army and the Shia in general. Air strikes would come in combination with two other factors already slowing the rebel advance: Isis is now entering mixed Sunni-Shia areas north of Baghdad and not Sunni-dominated cities like Mosul, Tikrit and Baiji where it is guaranteed local support. Second, Shia volunteers have been pouring into the army since Grand Ayatollah Ali  al-Sistani and the Shia hierarchy issued a fatwa calling for volunteers. They are unlikely to run away as the regular army did in Mosul.

 

More ambitious use of air power by the US is likely to show diminishing returns because Isis leaders like Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi are careful to hide their movements. Few prisoners from Isis taken by the government say they have ever seen him and those that have say he often wears a mask. Isis commanders, believed in many cases to be well trained military professionals from Saddam Hussein’s security forces, are likely to be very careful not to expose themselves or their men to air attack.

The Isis offensive has turned into a Sunni uprising with many trucks full of young men from Sunni villages waving their rifles and taking little care to protect themselves. Killing many of these will only further anger the Sunni community. The US will also not want to appear as the saviour of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki who is detested in Sunni districts.

The decision was endorsed by Obama at a meeting of his national security team The decision was endorsed by Obama at a meeting of his national security team (AP)
It is important to recall that much greater air power than is now available, notoriously failed to win the war in Iraq for the US from 2003 to 2011 when it had air bases all over the country along with 150,000 soldiers. The same is true of US air strikes in Afghanistan, which often turned out to have mistakenly targeted wedding parties and other social gatherings.

One important feature of US air intervention has not been mentioned. Isis is an efficient, experienced and fanatical movement with a reputation for striking back at any enemy. If its fighters start being killed by US aircraft, it may not be long before it sends its suicide bombers against American targets, inside or outside the US, to exact revenge.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: When is a baroness not a baroness? Titles still cause confusion

Guy Keleny
 

CPAC 2015: What I learnt from the US — and what the US could learn from Ukip

Nigel Farage
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?