ISIS can be defeated but it will take much greater will on the part of President Obama, an exponentially more robust air campaign with more reasonable rules of engagement and Arab ground forces to get the job done, according to retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Tom McInerney.
McInerney spent 35 years in uniform and rose to the role of assistant vice chief of staff, the number three position in the Air Force. He also served as a combat pilot in Vietnam and as vice commander of U.S. Air Forces Europe. He says the first step is for Obama to admit we currently have no strategy.
“He doesn’t have a strategy and that’s why, 16 months after we started the air campaign, we’re still at it,” said McInerney, who compared our current policy of a few sorties a day to what was accomplished back in the Gulf War in 1991.
“Desert Storm was 600,000 troops against Saddam Hussein’s forces. We had a 43-day air campaign and a 100-hour ground campaign. I don’t understand what the president’s strategy is,” said McInerney. “I don’t know what the president’s purpose is. He just has not exhibited any desire to take ISIS out.”
The U.S. campaign began after ISIS released videos showing the beheading of two American journalists. But even then, McInerney says Obama started our policy off on the wrong foot.
“We are not trying to destroy ISIS. The president talks about degrade and destroy. No American president in our history has ever said degrade the enemy and then destroy them. It’s always destroy them,” said McInerney.
So how can that be done? In the military realm, McInerney says it starts with a relentless air campaign of 500-1,000 sorties a day, compared with recent statistics showing the U.S. drops eighteen bombs per day. In comparison, the U.S. averaged 1,100 sorties per day during the Gulf War and 800 per day during major combat operations in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
But the general says the targets are just as important as the intensity.
“We need to have an air campaign that takes out all the lines of communication, meaning the highways. So Highway 47 from Raqqa, the capital of ISIS in Syria, to Mosul, nothing should move on that. Highway 1 from Mosul down to Baghdad, nothing should move on that. In other words, you start starving out everybody in Raqqa and in Mosul,” said McInerney.
He says there should be two other areas high on the hit list.
“Number two, you want to get their command and control, headquarters, etc. which we know where they are. Number three, we want to take out the petroleum and the vehicles that ship the oil,” said McInerney, who also listed the destruction of 60 terrorist training camps among the top priorities.
McInerney says concentrating that much air power on those valued targets would make an immediate difference.
“You’d see that their ability to move, to execute, to do anything, as the caliphate they can’t even protect their own people,” said McInerney.
Since Friday’s attacks in Paris, France has been launching highly publicized airstrikes on ISIS targets, but McInerney says that’s barely a drop in the bucket compared to what’s needed.
“They’re flying ten sorties a day. That’s not the template for anything,” he said, while admitting the French campaign is still more intense than the current U.S. effort.
The proof of our ineffectiveness, says McInerney, can be seen in satellite images of Raqqa.
“I’m looking at a [photo] right now of the city of Raqqa, the ISIS main headquarters, the Islamic court. All these buildings are standing. Why? The fact is we are not executing air power,” said McInerney.
The next change McInerney wants to see is a loosening of the rules of engagement which he believes are preventing any meaningful action because our leaders are trying to avoid civilian casualties at all costs.
“Our humane rules of engagement are creating inhumane results. You’ve got 300,000 people almost that are now dead, killed, or wounded in Syria. You look at what’s happened in Iraq. We’re just dragging something out and making it agonizing,” said McInerney.
While the general believes intense, targeted air power is vital to putting ISIS in the edge of extinction, he says Arab ground forces are needed to finish the job.
“People misunderstand. Only Arabs, the Muslims, can destroy this radical Islamic ideology. We’re infidels (in the minds of Muslims). They won’t accept that,” said McInerney. “They’ll have to do it and they’ll have to justify why this is such a failed ideology.”
This is the element of the fight where McInerney believes Obama is most sorely lacking. But he says other important leaders are dropping the ball too.
“You have a president who talks about violent extremists. I know not the ideology of violent extremists, but I know the ideology of radical Islam. It’s the Quran. It’s the Hadith, the sayings of the prophet and it’s Shariah law. Those are their rules of engagement. Until we understand that, we’ll not defeat this enemy,” said McInerney.
“They must defeat it themselves. Where are the Fatwas from Mecca and Medina chastising people for killing westerners,” added McInerney.
McInerney has one final job for Middle East nations – for them to take in the tens of thousands of refugees he suspects cannot be properly vetted by the U.S. or other western nations.
“Saudi Arabia and the other Middle East countries ought to be taking them over there. They have the space for them. They have a whole host of things, and they can recycle them back into Syria when this is resolved. That’s why I don’t think that we need to take them here,” said McInerney.