If ever there were a time for reflection it would be at this crucial time. Though granted ISIS is not entirely defeated in Iraq, they are on the run. And with Syria now looming as a possible battlefield it is appropriate to take a breather from what has just happened, recollect our thoughts, and move forward from there. However it’s also wise to perhaps decide not to pursue ISIS into Syria either partially or wholly, if that is the said path that the President chooses to take. If the President chooses to assist Iraqi forces in their fight against ISIS into Syria the inevitable question is what will America’s role be, almost assuredly airstrikes, but what about boots on the ground?
With ISIS in peril and al-Baghdadi injured it only makes sense to take the fight to them. This is true. But also it is true that we would be entering Syria as uninvited and unwanted guest of a regime that we once contemplated airstrikes against. And also with Ar-Raqqa being the unofficial hometown of ISIS it seems to make sense that we would then be fighting them on battlefields that are wholly familiar to them while unique to us.
ISIS is in desperate straits right now if the rumors of al-Baghdadi’s injuries are true, then it seems that his health is the paramount concern of them at this point. I liken al-Baghdadi to the khanate in the 13th century: if al-Baghdadi dies the whole enterprise will be in jeopardy since he is their leader and figure head, so if he were to die I could envision a sort of splitting of the khanate into smaller fiefdoms and these would in turn fight one another to exhaustion. But make no mistake about it al-Baghdadi dead represents a ceasing of all hostilities against the Iraqis and Kurds since he is their main strategist and tactician, and also the group’s main fundraising and recruitment draw. Without a doubt without him there is no longer an ISIS as we know them today. This is why his death should be the main objective of U.S. and Kurdish/Iraqi forces in Syria.
Also there should be a discussion about ISIS and what type of weaponry they have. After all for all we know al-Baghdadi could have chemical weaponry and be making Ar-Raqqa his last stand, much akin to Adolf Hitler in Berlin. Except for in this instance it would be one last release of Saran nerve agent that kills not only him, but the good soldiers that have him surrounded and would hope to see his reign come to an end.
Terror could also come from the sky. As uninvited guest in Bashar al-Assad’s country, the idea of him bombing or dog fighting our forces is a very real predicament. It would behoove the Iraqi’s as well as the U.S. if we could get assurances from the Syrian regime that they will not be malevolent proprietor’s while we are in northern Syria finishing off ISIS.
As to the idea of the U.S. personally assisting the fight against ISIS with “boots on the ground” I personally wouldn’t recommend it if only since that would entail a lot of moving around of pieces which would waste precious time. Why wait to kill al-Baghdadi when the Iraqi’s along with American military advisers can do it all by themselves, with airstrikes in tow of course. If it does come down to sending in boots to help the Iraqi’s annihilate ISIS it would to me seem more prudent to send in mercenaries from America. This would prevent a heavy military footprint and also it would allow for us to be engaged in the fighting without the risk to our professional military soldiers.
If it comes to a point where al-Baghdadi closes ranks around his self in Ar-Raqqa or any other city in Syria while he attempts to convalesce it would be prudent to siege the town rather than trying to take it outright. This is because it would be difficult for military intelligence to crack that nut, if you will, considering the fierce loyalty that he inspires. What makes more sense is to starve them out of their hidey holes and frustrate all plans that they hatch to try and get out of the city with al-Baghdadi in tow an order to live to fight another day.
To defeat ISIS our number one objective should be to kill al-Baghdadi. I cannot stress enough how important he is to this particular enterprise and what his death will mean for them. Simply put they cannot and will not function without him thus negating the need for a heavy footprint in the region and rather having the threat implode upon itself.
Update 8/24: The following is a map detailing how we should approach Ar-Raqqa for the final showdown.