Airstrikes Fail to Slow Islamic State in SyriaPosted: January 14, 2015
Militant Group Has Gained Territory, Raising Concerns of the Obama Administration’s Mideast Strategy
WASHINGTON— Dion Nissenbaum writes: More than three months of U.S. airstrikes in Syria have failed to prevent Islamic State militants from expanding their control in that country, according to U.S. and independent assessments, raising new concerns about President Barack Obama ’s military strategy in the Middle East.
“While U.S. bombing runs and missile strikes have put Islamic State forces on the defensive in Iraq, they haven’t had the same kind of impact in Syria.”
While U.S. bombing runs and missile strikes have put Islamic State forces on the defensive in Iraq, they haven’t had the same kind of impact in Syria. Instead, jihadist fighters have enlarged their hold in Syria since the U.S. started hitting the group’s strongholds there in September, according to the new estimates.
Islamic State’s progress in Syria is partly the result of the U.S. decision to focus its military efforts on Iraq, where the militant group has seized major parts of the country and declared them part of a new Islamic caliphate. The U.S.-led military effort has pushed the forces out of some key battlegrounds in Iraq.
“Certainly ISIS has been able to expand in Syria, but that’s not our main objective. I wouldn’t call Syria a safe haven for ISIL, but it is a place where it’s easier for them to organize, plan and seek shelter than it is in Iraq.”
— Senior Defense Official
But Syria still serves as a haven for Islamic State fighters, also known in the West by the acronyms ISIS and ISIL.
The assessments come as the Obama administration is considering whether the U.S. should embrace more aggressive ideas for containing Islamic State forces in Syria. Some administration officials have been pushing the U.S. to once again rethink its “Iraq-first” strategy and focus more attention on Syria, including training thousands of Syrian fighters to take on the feared group.
Among suggestions: The U.S. military could help set up a buffer zone along Syria’s border with Turkey that would be protected by American air power. It could start coordinating airstrikes with rebel forces currently fighting in Syria. And it could provide Kurdish forces now fighting in Syria with more sophisticated weapons.
But there is significant opposition within the administration to any idea that would drag the U.S. military deeper into a country where few see options that will make things better, officials say. Military officials say the concerns are understandable. But containing the dangers posed by Islamic State forces will take time and patience, they say.
For now, the U.S. strategy remains focused on pushing Islamic State forces out of Iraq, where they control major parts of the country, including Mosul, its second-largest city, and Fallujah, a longtime stronghold of anti-American resistance northwest of Baghdad.
That focus is likely to be questioned in the coming weeks… (read more)
—Felicia Schwartz and Carol E. Lee contributed to this article.
Write to Dion Nissenbaum at firstname.lastname@example.org
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