If you’re wondering why U.S. military personnel heading to West Africa to help stem the tide of Ebola are taking part in Operation United Assistance, and the troops heading to the Middle East to fight the Islamic State group are still taking part in a no-name operation, just watch ABC News’ recent interview with Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Listen to his tone. Look at his face. Take note of his delivery. You will see a tired and dejected man who wants to crawl into a corner and stay there for weeks because he knows that he has been given a task from his worst nightmares.
ABC News reported Oct. 7 on the Islamic State group’s advances into the Syrian city of Kobani:
Martha Raddatz: What are you hearing? What are you seeing?
Gen. Dempsey: Well, it may be about to fall. The ISIL fighters have been putting pressure on the outskirts of the city and in fact into the city itself. And in fact I just got off the phone with my Turkish counterpart about it.
Martha Raddatz: And what did they say?
Gen. Dempsey: Well, they are obviously tracking it just like we are. They’ve got forces on their side of the border that will prevent ISIL from making any incursions into Turkey, but of course ISIL is smart enough not to do that. I am fearful that Kobani will fall. We have been striking when we can. ISIL is a learning enemy and they know how to maneuver and how to use populations and concealment, and so when we get a target we will take it.
Martha Raddatz: And when you talk about ISIL and ISIS blending into the population, what are you seeing? How are they doing that?
Gen. Dempsey: They’re becoming more savvy with the use of electronic devices. They don’t fly flags and move around in large convoys the way the did. They don’t establish headquarters that are visible or identifiable. There are ways that over time we can learn about them as they adapt, but they are changing.
Martha Raddatz: How serious is it if Kobani falls? I think the Kurdish intelligence official was quoted as saying “A terrible slaughter is coming. If they take this city we should expect to have 5,000 dead within 24 or 36 hours.”
Gen. Dempsey:“We think that most of the residents have actually fled. Whether there are still 5,000 people there or not is a matter of conjecture at this point. I have no doubt that ISIL will conduct the same kind of horrific atrocities if they have the opportunity to do so.”
If you have a roach problem, and all you do is spray some insecticide on the critters every time they crawl across the kitchen floor, then you will always have a roach problem. In fact, they will continue breeding in the walls of your home. Slowly but surely they will make your home their home, and they will continue to do so until you are prepared to seriously deal with the problem. Likewise, random airstrikes on the Islamic State group each week will not root out the terrorist organization from its well-entrenched positions in Iraq and Syria.
Retired Lt. Gen. David Barno accurately explained the situation in late September:
“The effects of airstrikes and Tomahawk strikes … are not enduring: They’re transient and as soon as the last bomb falls, the enemy begins to rebuild and readjust. In many, many ways, it’s very difficult to achieve lasting effects and consolidate any kind of success without having some kind of force actually make that permanent. It doesn’t have to be American troops.”
Is it any wonder that the fight against Islamic State still does not have a name? What sort of Pentagon official — or president — would want to have their name attached to it at this point? Jimmy Carter will forever be known as the guy who ordered Operation Eagle Claw, and now the logic seems to be that if President Obama can just eek out two years without naming operations in Iraq and Syria, then perhaps the never-ending mudslide of time will have an easier job of washing it all away…
Now that Marine Cpl. Jordan Spears is officially the first military death in President Obama’s no-name operations against the Islamic State group, people will begin to ask what he died for. The price tag (roughly $1 billion for three months of airstrikes) will also put pressure on the Obama administration to name its ongoing military engagement. In time, one would think the White House would be forced to relent, but there should be no mistake as to why the foot-dragging is taking place: no one wants to name their own failures.
Just as the Islamic State group has adjusted to changing conditions on the ground, it is possible for the Obama administration to adopt a winning strategy. Hopefully, men like Gen. Dempsey will repeatedly tell the president what he needs to hear behind the scenes until Mr. Obama listens to reason.