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The Syrian Front
ISIS Digs in Before Airstrikes

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.

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  • lukelea

    I take it that Walter Russell Mead is not longer writing these posts. Why bother to read them?

    • Thirdsyphon

      His interns used to write more interesting posts.

  • Thirdsyphon

    I may be missing something, but in what world would ISIS not have taken steps to avoid getting bombed? Actually, scratch that. More fundamentally: why is ISIS retreating being taken as a negative development in the first place?

    • MartyH

      Compare W Bush’s statement in 2003: “My fellow citizens, at this hour American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger.” Element of surprise maintained.

      Or HW Bush’s announcement in 1991: “Just 2 hours ago, allied air forces began an attack on military targets in Iraq and Kuwait. These attacks continue as I speak. Ground forces are not engaged.” Element of surprise maintained.

      Had Obama’s announcement been along the lines of “Eight hours ago we began bombing the daylights out of every ISIS position we know of across Iraq and Syria” we would have killed a lot more ISIS fighters and destroyed a lot more ISIS equipment a lot faster than we will in this world.

      ISIS is as much digging in as retreating, thanks to the President’s announcement.

      • Thirdsyphon

        Per Wikipedia: “On 15 February 2003, a month before the invasion, there were worldwide protests against the Iraq War, including a rally of three million people in Rome, which is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest ever anti-war rally.”

        The Iraq War actually didn’t begin until March 19, more than a month later. Pearl Harbor it was not. Saddam Hussein had plenty of time to prepare. . .for all the good it did him.

        The Gulf War, coming as it did on the heels of a hotly debated Congressional resolution to authorize the use of military force, is also unlikely to have come as much of a surprise to Mr. Hussein. . .who probably noticed the hundreds of thousands of soldiers and their equipment being moved into place along the southern border of Kuwait.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    Obama is a clueless idiot that doesn’t even know what the word ‘strategy’ means.

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