Fight against ISIS in Iraq

Pakistan Observer - - EDITORIAL & COMMENTS -

AL­MOST five years ago, Pres­i­dent Obama de­liv­ered a speech in which he ac­knowl­edged — and claimed credit for — the fact that the last US com­bat troops would soon be leav­ing Iraq. “The tide of war is re­ced­ing,” Obama said on Oct. 21, 2011. What Obama didn’t an­tic­i­pate was that Is­lamic State (ISIS), an off­shoot of Al Qaeda in Iraq, would seize large amounts of ter­ri­tory in Iraq and Syria, in­spir­ing and or­ches­trat­ing ter­ror­ist at­tacks in the West. So in 2014 Obama promised to “de­grade and ul­ti­mately de­stroy” ISIS, but with­out get­ting “dragged into an­other ground war in Iraq.”

So far, the pres­i­dent has abided by that pledge. Yet signs of mis­sion creep in Iraq are mul­ti­ply­ing. There are now about 4,000 US troops in Iraq, of­fi­cially in a train­ing and ad­vi­sory role but in­creas­ingly in harm’s way. Af­ter a Navy SEAL was killed com­ing to the res­cue of Kur­dish and Chris­tian fight­ers near Mo­sul, De­fence Sec­re­tary Ash­ton Carter said: “It is a com­bat death, of course.” More such ca­su­al­ties are pos­si­ble as US forces as­sist in the coun­terof­fen­sive de­signed to ex­pel Is­lamic State from ter­ri­tory it oc­cu­pies, a cam­paign that has achieved some suc­cess but faces sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges. Even if the ca­su­alty count re­mains small, the his­tory of US mil­i­tary in­volve­ment in the Mid­dle East — and else­where, no­tably Viet­nam — will in­spire con­cern that the US is on a slip­pery slope to just the sort of largescale com­mit­ment Obama has for­sworn. One way to counter such con­cerns — and con­strain Obama and his suc­ces­sor — is for Congress to ap­prove an Au­tho­riza­tion for Use of Mil­i­tary Force against ISIS, the ad­min­is­tra­tion is con­duct­ing its cam­paign against that group un­der res­o­lu­tions passed dur­ing the Ge­orge W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion that pro­vided au­tho­riza­tion both for re­tal­i­a­tion against Al Qaeda af­ter the Sept. 11 at­tacks and for the 2003 in­va­sion of Iraq. Even if Congress im­poses lim­its on US in­volve­ment, the de­press­ing prospect for the fore­see­able fu­ture is that the US — ideally with more sup­port from its re­gional al­lies — will be en­gaged in a sig­nif­i­cant and at times dan­ger­ous struggle with ISIS and sim­i­lar groups, with no guar­an­tee of achiev­ing all of its ob­jec­tives. For ex­am­ple, even if ISIS were de­feated in Iraq and Syria, po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity in both coun­tries and else­where could give rise to sim­i­lar in­sur­gen­cies. As even the in­ter­ven­tion-averse Obama has re­alised, it is im­pos­si­ble to ex­tri­cate the US en­tirely from a con­flict that’s metas­ta­sis­ing in many lo­ca­tions. The tide of war has re­ceded, but not as far as he or we thought in 2011. — The Los An­ge­les Times

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