Retired U.S. Navy Captain Chuck Nash says radical groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) can never be completely eradicated and any meaningful degrading of the terrorist army will only come with competent ground forces working in tandem with powerful airstrikes like we saw Monday night.
Nonetheless, Nash is impressed by the performance of U.S. forces this week in the first airstrikes conducted in Syria and is pleased to see Arab allies, particularly Sunnis, joining the fight.
Late Monday, the Pentagon confirmed that the U.S. was carrying out the first wave of airstrikes inside Syria. War planes with precision-guided munitions and multiple U.S. Navy vessels firing a variety of missiles took part, with varying levels of assistance from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
By all accounts, the strikes were on target and avoided civilian casualties. However, Nash says Americans should have no illusions about what our military efforts can and cannot accomplish in taking the fight to ISIS.
“It will never be destroyed. The violent element is in the DNA of Islam. It’s in their documents. Moderates and radicals read the same documents and draw their inspiration from the same religious texts. It will never disappear. It can only be degraded,” said Nash, who is also a military analyst for the Fox News Channel.
According to Nash, air power can be very effective, but it has the greatest impact when accompanied by competent ground forces that can take the fight to the enemy’s ground forces. He says the U.S. learned that the hard way in the NATO campaign against Serbia in the late 1990s. In that campaign, without guidance from the ground, U.S. pilots were very focused on striking Serbian tanks, only to discover they were decoys.
“Unless you have a ground force to oppose a ground force, there’s no reason for that other ground force to coalesce into a defensive position and become dense enough to become a lucrative air target,” said Nash.
Finding effective ground troops in this campaign could prove difficult. U.S. officials say it will take up to a year to get moderate Syrian rebels prepared to fight ISIS. Iraqi forces continue to prove they are not up to the task. This past Sunday, ISIS militants successfully smuggled explosive-laden humvees onto an Iraqi base in Anbar Province. Once detonated, up to 500 Iraqi soldiers were lost.
Nash says the Iraqis will need to shape up in a hurry if they are to be used effectively against ISIS.
“They’re going to have to get competent leadership at the officer level. They do have some good troops in the commando units, the special forces units that we’ve trained. Those guys are good but there just aren’t enough of them. The regular army infantry that the Iraqi forces have are not properly led, not properly equipped. The events of last Sunday showed that,” said Nash.
Even if the Iraqi military improved drastically in the coming months, Nash sees little alternative but to have U.S. personnel at the front to coordinate the air campaign.
“There have to be boots on the ground at some point that are working on the same goals as we are. I’m not saying they have to be U.S. boots necessarily. We’re either going to have Title 10, some people in uniform who are used to working with U.S. aircraft, or Title 50 where they are chopped from the military to another agency where they’re on the ground,” said Nash.
“But call them Americans on the ground. Sooner or later, there are going to be Americans on the ground. Otherwise, we’re just going to be chasing ghosts,” said Nash.
Nash also sees a couple of significant positive developments in the wake of last night’s bombings, especially the involvement of five Arab nations in the mission: Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. An even more ‘critical step,’ he says, is that Sunnis in the region are ready to confront other Sunnis.
“The critical step is admitting and going out to defend, in their own populations, the fact that these Sunni countries are in combat against a Sunni unit in this ISIS group. They’re taking on the risk of having internal problems, internal terrorist acts or demonstrations in their own countries,” said Nash.
While Monday’s strikes are just the beginning of a campaign the U.S. admits will take years, Nash also reminds Americans to marvel at just how good our military is at what it does.
“We make this look really easy. It’s not. There’s a lot of skill, a lot of practice. The experience of war over time has educated the people who are flying the airplanes and planning the missions. It makes it look easy but it’s fairly complicated,” he said.
How complicated is it?
“The big thing is getting everything to work as it’s supposed to work. You plan on it to work and then you come up with back-ups if things go wrong, if the weather intervenes, if this group is running late because they got off late. How late can you get off and still make the mission? What are the fall back positions? Is everybody communicating or is somebody in a ducting layer, where you can’t hear them?” said Nash.
“There are all kinds of things that can happen in the environment and in human performance that can really throw a monkey wrench into things. So when things go smoothly, everybody says, ‘Well, that’s the way it’s supposed to work.’ But it’s hard to pull off,” he said.