While all eyes turn to the U.S. bombardment of ISIS from the air, some experts are watching and worrying over the performance of local forces on the ground. A spate of worrying setbacks has raised serious questions about whether these forces—not the least important of which is the Kurdish peshmerga—are capable of holding off the militant group. The Daily Beast reports:
Douglas Ollivant, a former Army officer who advised Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq and served under two presidents in the National Security Council, expressed a view common among military and intelligence officers: “I think the general consensus among the American military people in country is that the Kurds just aren’t any better than any other military force in Iraq, and we shouldn’t be surprised that they’re having the same lack of success as the rest of the Iraqi army.”
That Kurdish capabilities are less substantial than many in D.C. seem to have thought is the big story behind today’s headlines of resumption of hostilities in Iraq, and the policy implications are mostly unpleasant. The stronger the Kurds, the more we could have relied on them and the less we would have had to do for them. Conversely, the choices get much uglier if the Kurds turn out to be weak—they are an important asset in a miserable place, and the U.S. doesn’t want to see them go down. Furthermore, there are good strategic reasons for doing something for the Kurds while letting Baghdad sweat over whether we’ll do the same for it.
It’s impossible to speculate from the outside looking in just how far ahead the Obama Administration has thought through its strategy going forward with this escalation in Iraq. But one thing is clear, however: this is yet one more example of Washington thinking it had solid ground to stand on, which it turns out can’t bear much weight.