Every time that the U.S. conducts airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria it issues a press release, which the media immediately reproduces, telling us that bombs were dropped, ISIS targets were destroyed, and all planes departed safely. With so much destruction under way, the reader is left with the impression that much progress is being made, but that is far from the case.
- ISIS is holding ground or advancing: After more than two weeks of bombing in Syria, ISIS still controls the same territory as before and is still advancing. Despite U.S. air support, the Syrian Kurds appear to have lost another important Syrian city this week, giving ISIS an uninterrupted stretch of 60 miles from its “capital” in Raqqa to the Turkey border. After two months of bombing in Iraq, ISIS has maintained the same territory – one quarter of the country – and is still claiming or reclaiming cities there as well. In fact, “Instead of pushing them back, now every time they hear the planes, they shell more,” one Kurdish fighter told ABC. Other Kurds are saying air power will never be enough.
- ISIS’s recruitment is booming: Since the bombing began, ISIS recruitment has boomed. The CIA estimated that ISIS has gained between 10,000 and 25,000 new fighters since June. The U.K.’s Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claims that 6,000 of those have joined since U.S. air strikes began in August. Nearly 1,300 have been foreign fighters attracting by the concept of a clash of civilizations. Rebel commanders are reporting that the strikes are increasing support for ISIS.
- Our “moderate” allies are pissed: Syrian Sunnis protested for days after the U.S. initiated air strikes against al-Nusrah Front, which is affiliated with al-Qaeda. The U.S. attempted to clarify that it was only targeting a supposed cell within al-Nusrah called Khorasan, but essentially, no one (other than the U.S. media) believed it. Many others opposed even the air strikes against ISIS, asking why the U.S. wasn’t targeting Assad instead. Others are upset about the civilian deaths that the strikes have caused. Basically, no one is happy (except Assad).
- U.S. Strikes Allied ISIS with al-Qaeda in Syria for the first time: After U.S. air strikes against it the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria known al-Nusrah Front held war-planning meetings with ISIS for the first time since their rupture over a year ago. Many members of al-Nusrah want to make the partnership official. Pro-al-Qaeda clerics have also pushed for reconciliation because U.S. bombing is a war “against Islam and not against a specific organization.”
- Americans are now being killed and threatened: If the idea behind the attacks was to make Americans safer, it’s failing. Two U.S. journalists have been killed as a direct response to U.S. airstrikes. In August, ISIS beheaded James Foley and threatened to kill a second journalist Steve Sotloff, which it ultimately did in early September. After a British aid worker was killed when the British started air strikes in Iraq, ISIS has threatened to kill a third American, aid worker Alan Henning. U.S. involvement in the civil wars has also unleashed a series of threats from ISIS leaders and others.
From the U.S. government’s perspective, the war has been a major flop so far, which is already leading to our slow descent from the air to the ground. As Americans begin to see that Obama’s strategy is failing, they will likely turn on the expedition, even as both parties endorse further escalation.