Friday, December 19, 2014

Return of the Kurds

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has not been having a good week.  On Sunday, US forces reportedly engaged ISIS forces when they came close enough to Ain al-Assad air base to be engaged under the premise of self-defense, and on Thursday, Kurdish forces supported by American airstrikes completed a successful offensive against ISIS.  The operation recaptured a large area that ISIS forces had previously controlled, extending out to Mount Sinjar.

The offensive was the largest operation to ever be held against the Islamic State, and it has caused celebration in the Kurdish region.  The leader of the Kurdistan Regional Security Council, Masrour Barzani, said in a statement that the operation was “the single biggest military offensive against ISIS, and the most successful.”  While the Kurds are understandably jubilant about their victory, the operation was also a success and vindication of the US-led campaign.  More than 50 air strikes in support of the Kurdish ground forces ensured the success of the Kurdish Peshmerga.  The airstrikes included the first from A-10s, the master of close air support, that had been transferred from Afghanistan. 

The Sinjar Mountains were the location where in August ISIS had cut off thousands of Yazidis, an event that triggered the US involvement in airstrikes against ISIS, allowing many of them to escape into Syria.  However, hundreds of the Yazidis had been forced back to the mountains again by ISIS, and the Peshmerga offensive freed a corridor allowing them a second escape from ISIS militants.  According to Barzani, the Peshmerga killed 100 ISIS fighters.  US leaders say that over 100 sq/km of ground has been retaken, but the Peshmerga are claiming to have retaken 700 sq/km to the Syrian border.  They also claim they’ve taken the mountain range above the primary ISIS military base of Tal Afar, which if true gives them an immense strategic advantage.  The strategic importance can not be overstated, as they are the highest terrain in the region, and for any ground force lacking air superiority controlling them is critical. 

Despite the success of recent operations, Lt. General James Terry, the leader of the US forces, does not expect the fight to end quickly.  On the same day as the Peshmerga advance, and despite having killed the ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and several other leaders, he stated that he thought the campaign would take at least three years before reaching a turning point.  

1 comment:

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