Obama Enters Uncharted Territory With New Bombing Campaign In Syria

ObamaREUTERS/Larry DowningUS President Barack Obama talks about the vote on Capitol Hill on his request to arm and train Syrian rebels in the fight against the Islamic State on Thursday.

A US-led coalition bombed ISIS and Al Qaeda targets in Syria on Monday night after informing both the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad and the Western-backed rebels seeking to topple him.

The US military said the coalition carried out 22 strikes in Syria from both air and sea, targeting facilities used by ISIS near the Iraq border and in the group’s de facto capital in Raqqa, Syria. The US carried out separate strikes on Al Qaeda veterans in northwest Syria.

Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia were directly or indirectly involved in the ISIS operations, according to US officials. The grouping shows that the US has succeeded in recruiting Sunni governments against ISIS, made up of Sunni extremists, as well as uniting Persian Gulf countries.

But it is unclear which side in Syria will benefit from the new campaign, or how the US can influence the subsequent actions taken in targeted areas.

“The expanded war propelled the US military into an uncharted involvement in Syria, where it has little intelligence and virtually no ground support,” The Wall Street Journal notes.

Obama’s reluctance to be dragged into “somebody else’s civil war” led to insufficient support for US-backed Syrian rebels over the past three years, circumstances that fuelled to the fragmentation and radicalization of the armed Syrian opposition.

Russia, which staunchly backs Assad, condemned the strikes because they were not coordinated with Assad.

“It would be in Russia’s interests to drag Western countries into a conversation with Assad,” Vladimir Frolov, a political analyst based in Moscow, told The Washington Post. “The United States has underestimated the complexity of the situation before, so let’s just wait until they run into problems. [The Russians] are eagerly expecting that.”

What’s Next?

Given that the stated US goal of “destroying” ISIS is unrealistic, there is a question of what a successful campaign entails.

“Well, you can say the destruction of ISIS. But wars on terror you’re never able to actually win,” geopolitical expert Ian Bremmer told Bloomberg Surveillance when asked to define success in Syria.

Bremmer noted that the situation made it crucial that the US had regional partners. “The harder it is to define victory, the more you want everyone around to be involved. That’s where we’re at right now.”

Truly defeating ISIS would require full-scale war that would involve tens of thousands of ground troops and fighting in both Iraq and Syria.

The most capable fighters on the ground are Iranian-backed Shia militias, which have become increasingly sectarian while fighting Sunni militants in Syria and Iraq. The militias, many of whom fought American troops during the Iraq war, have infiltrated the governments in both Baghdad and Damascus.

Bremmer said it was remarkable that Sunni countries were taking part in bombing ISIS from the air while “the Shia are on the ground doing the fighting in the trenches” in Iraq.

In Syria, the Shia militias (and Iranian soldiers) fight on the side of Assad, who facilitated the rise of ISIS in an attempt to ensure his own survival.

Meanwhile, Assad’s opponents in the Free Syrian Army (FSA) told The Journal that the US had recently provided supplies including American-made, heat-seeking antitank weapons (TOWs), arms, and communications equipment.

President Barack Obama will be speaking about the ISIS strikes on Tuesday morning.

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