This morning there is news of US airstrikes in Syria. The exact composition of the strike packages is unknown, but according to the reports the U.S. officials said that in addition to Jordan; Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Qatar also aided in the raids, although Qatar’s role was described as a supporting one. As far as the aircraft involved, for the first time the F-22s have been used in “combat”.
It is good to see some involvement from the Sunni Arabs in combating ISIS. However, there is still no strategic answer and no strategy as to how all of this ends. There is no doubt that tactically, airpower combined with Kurdish, Shia Arab, and other anti-ISIS ground forces will degrade and most likely destroy ISIS as a cohesive organization. ISIS has no ability to Observe US aircraft and therefore can never compete with the US OODA loop. Once the ISIS captured tanks and other armored vehicles are eliminated, that organization will be forced to resort back to an insurgency type campaign. Once that happens, even an army as incompetent as Iraqi one could keep them contained as they have for two years prior to June 2014.
But, what happens afterwards? The underlying Iraqi and Syrian Sunni Arab goals of either living free from or ruling over Shias in their respective countries remain unchanged. Additionally, it is highly likely that the Sunni Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia will just shift their funding to a different Sunni Arab group. All we will see in a few years is a remnant of ISIS transforming itself into a different yet similar organization involved in terror, representing the views of the Sunni Arabs.
Also, it is important to remember that while ISIS is a terrorist group, it is supported by the Sunni population in the areas it controls. Until the Sunnis choose to use other means besides terrorism and combat to accomplish their political goals, nothing will change. This is only possible if the Sunni Arabs are no longer under the control of Iraqi and Syrian Shia regimes. If that happens and there is an independent Sunnistan, then and only then could be a possibility of peace. It would be based on mutual deterrence, along the lines of North/South Korea or Turkey/Greece relationships. Anyone who thinks that Shias and Sunnis can live in a single state, side by side, does not understand the dynamics of their religious struggle which has been going on since the death of Mohamed. Based on the current events co-existence based on mutual respect is simply not possible in the Middle East until there is some fundamental religious change, similar to the European Enlightenment. Until that happens we will continue mowing grass so to speak, destroying terrorist organizations only to see them grow again.
As to the F-22 use in “combat”, there have been a number of misinformed comments such as this from Washington Post At long last, F-22 Raptor fighter makes its debut in combat over Syria. What the writer and other like him don’t understand is that the use of F-22s does not mean that somehow now this weapon system’s purchase is justified. It was justified a long time ago. The writer fundamentally does not understand that the best military weapon is the one you never have to use, because the enemy is so scared of you using it. Think nuclear weapons. Just because we have not used one in a war since 1945 does not mean we should not have acquired them. Nuclear weapons prevented a world war along the lines of WWII between superpowers in which millions would have perished.
What the 381 F-22s, that former Secretary Gates reduced to 177, provide is deterrence to insure that there would not be a war between US and a near peer competitor, which could take thousands or hundreds of thousands of lives. Unfortunately his focus on the police actions we call wars reduced the number of F-22s acquired and by extension reduced the ability of the US to deter an adversary from a major conflict. The F-22s have not been used for the past 10-15 years for the same reason we did not use nukes in Iraq and Afghanistan, they were not needed. Police actions we call wars require police presence and police response. People should think of F-22s as they do of house or flood insurance, something that you buy hoping to never have to use. To use F-22s now against an adversary such as ISIS that has no Air Force is a waste of resources and reduces US ability to deter better equipped adversaries.