“Islamic State” beckons allies into disastrous guerilla war

ISIS fighters in Iraq

US President Barack Obama has acknowledged that he erred in assessing the threat posed by the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, writes Abdel Bari Atwan.

In an interview with CBC he said that the jihadist fighters who chased US troops out of Iraq into Syria had gathered to form a more powerful organization under the umbrella of Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi and his State. This recognition of mistakes, by the leader of the alliance which has tasked itself with eliminating the Islamic State, will certainly not be the last.

More errors will undoubtedly follow, one by one, with the prolongation of air strikes, and the transition to ground war which many Western military experts consider inevitable and insist that nothing definitive could be achieved without “boots on the ground.”

American warplanes pounding Jabhat al-Nusra for free is greatly to the advantage of the Assad regime, which is also threatened by Islamic State. Many Syrian opposition figures are questioning the long term intentions of the US Administration.

The aerial bombardment has hastened a union between al-Nusra and the armies of the Islamic State, and placed the “moderate” opposition in a very difficult and confusing position; it is against both the jihadists and the regime but doesn’t have the capability to fight either, let alone both. If the moderate opposition becomes, in effect, an “Awakening” force (confronting the jihadists) then it will benefit, rather than weaken, the regime and be seen as a puppet of the US by the Syrian public.

Obama did not exaggerate when he also confessed that he had greatly underestimated the size of Islamic State. We do not agree with some newspapers who are claiming that Obama has now inflated the size of Islamic State’s armies in order to rally the international coalition behind the American standard to do battle with them.


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The CIA admitted two weeks ago that it had erred in its assessment of the strength of the Islamic State and its fighters, which it initially put at 10,000. Its current estimate is around 30,000. Yet the real number, according to certain sources on the ground, is actually between 80 – 100,000 in Syria and Iraq combined; large numbers have joined the ranks of the Islamic State in the past two months because of splits in the ranks of the other Islamic factions and in response to the US “aggression” as they see it.

This corroborates earlier remarks by Gen. David Richards, Commander of the British army, who said that it would take 100,000 fighters on the ground to deal with Islamic State, warning that “otherwise the war will continue forever.” Even this number will look insufficient if, as we expect, the various jihadist groups join forces to fight the new “crusader alliance” as they refer to it on their websites and social media platforms.

Six British tornado fighter jets despatched by British Prime Minister David Cameron to fight alongside American and Arab fighters, returned to their bases in Cyprus without firing one missile, because they simply could not find any Islamic State targets to bomb.

American planes meanwhile managed to bomb grain silos in Aleppo and a gas plant in Deir Al-zour, which raised the ire of the Syrian people and has meant that the people in these areas are deprived of bread and fuel at the time when winter creeps into the region.

US air strikes – which have already cost the American tax payer $2.3 billion – have lost their effectiveness sooner than expected. Islamic State fighters have simply disappeared from open spaces and integrated with the citizens of Mosul, Deir ez-Zor, and Raqqah, beckoning the state and foreign armies into a guerrilla war for which the jihadists are better prepared and suited.

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