Are we now approaching the beginning of the end game in the battle with ISIS? The US and Turkish governments are planning to put in place a ‘Safe Zone’ in North West Syria, free of ISIS. But as the Turks and the outlawed Kurds of the PKK (Kurdish Militants in Turkey) trade blows, Assad quietly gets on with the business of gassing civilians, 50 injured in Jobar, Monday 27 Jul with chlorine gas and the Wall Street Journal reporting that he [Assad] still has stocks of deadly Nerve Agent VX and Mustard Agent, enough to kill thousands. A ‘Safe Zone’ is a start but it is only a ‘No Fly Zone’ which prevents Assad using chemical weapons and barrel bombs to kill hundreds of civilians every week. Air strikes on their own, without troops on the ground to follow up, have never had strategic effect on battlefields, and the current battle against ISIS only underwrites this prognosis. The Kurds of Syrian YPG (military wing of the Democratic Union Party in Syria) and Iraqi Kurds of the Peshmergha (Defence Force of Kurdistan Region Government, KRG, of Iraq) have demonstrated unequivocally that they have fighting spirit, and with help from Coalition air strikes have been successful in defeating ISIS in tactical engagements. I spent time with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in North West Syria in Sept/Oct 2014 and they too had success against ISIS, but did not appear, at the time, to have direct access to Coalition air strikes or combat power. My personal experience with the FSA is that they could be more effective fighters but lacked the technical and practical know-how to co-ordinate air strikes, tanks and artillery, and with this support and know-how they will be a really effective fighting force.
However, the US, UK and others must accept that they need to do more than air strikes and put some troops on the ground, especially as advisors to use the combat power arrayed against ISIS to best effect. In my opinion the only way to do this in the short to medium term is to embed British and American [and others] soldiers who do have these capabilities in spades. The UK and US have done this very effectively for centuries. It does not appear to me that the likes of the US and UK are going to commit tanks and divisions of infantry on the ground in Syria and Iraq to defeat ISIS, and hence as part of a comprehensive and global approach, regional actors are going to have to do the bulk of the frontline fighting. But these must be heavily guided and supported by the first grade militaries around the world. The bottom line is, my opinion, only the Kurds, moderate Syrians and Iraqis are going to be able to defeat ISIS on the ground and the Kurds seem to be most effective hitherto. They [Kurds] should be the focus of our support if we are going to see any sort of peace in the short-to-medium term. In this most complex of theatres of war, the PKK and Turkish conflagration, is no more ruinous than the challenges of the Free Syrian Army, Assad Regime, AL Qaeda and ISIS fight, and hopefully will not deflect the global effort to defeat ISIS in totality. If we don’t defeat ISIS in Syria and Iraq we will at some stage be fighting them on the streets of New York, London, Paris and other capital cities. This is a war which our generation, globally, just cannot afford to lose.