President Obama’s emphatic statement that any U.S. fighting in Syria will primarily be an air war has ISIS digging in already, as the Financial Times reports:
“They’re clearing out weapons caches and some fighters say Isis is moving some military positions and checkpoints,” said one activist who could not be identified to protect his safety. “Anti-aircraft artillery already tried to shoot down the drones.”For nearly a week, activists in Isis’s stronghold of Raqqa in northern Syria have been filming suspected western drones flying above the province. Since then, Isis appears to have moved its assets not only in Raqqa but in other strongholds farther west, such as the city al-Bab.Al-Bab activists with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported widespread evacuations of Isis offices.In neighbouring Iraq, US strikes have so far succeeded at beating back Isis advances. But it is not clear how much they have degraded its capabilities in areas firmly under Isis control, and where militants can blend among civilians.
As Walter Russell Mead and Adam Garfinkle have pointed out in recent essays (here and here), telegraphing your strategy to the enemy is not only counterproductive but dangerous. ISIS has gotten the message. As Hezbollah demonstrated in their 2006 war with Israel, even a terrorist group can resist advanced modern weaponry, given enough time to prepare its defenses. Whatever the merits of an air war strategy, it will be less effective if you keep telling the enemy your plans.