over and under estimating air force #iraq#isis

following the media discourse on the islamic state of iraq and syria (isis) and the general situation and development in iraq, i am stunned that through all the military advisory analyses on why air force is not a sollution for a counter of the isis, there are still policy decision made in just that direction from both the iraqi federal government and other external actors.

true, speaking from a perspective of international actors, air force deployment is most easily arguable in a national context; after all, the sending of troups on the ground sounds so much more like going to war than just flying a few planes across the country to bomb the shit out of terrorists from a safe distance to the ground. the advice that air bombardements are only effective in a centrally localized territorium like a city or economic center and not with terrorist group movements like the isis -that on top of all just gain support from grass routs that tend to get additionally violently motivated on the basis of being attackes by some foreigners (again)- is galantly overlooked. and, fair enough, maybe an air based strategy would do some good to gain back cities or the much discussed oil refinery – at least that would do the trick to claim ‘success’ for the headline hungry press – but the movement of the isis is not simply stopped by taking back a city. the isis is an idea. an ideology. its motivation stems from suppression and discrimination (something they themselves are, frankly, quite good at – it is the old double sided measure stick that one only feels oppression when it is done to oneself, while the other way round it serves a higher purpose, a historic reason or a religious claim to authority and it is ‘just fine’). so far, anyways, terrorism and counterterrorism strategy literature points into the direction that ‘unfair’ violence and attacks lead to more sympathizers rather than a losing of motivation. instead, aling the lines of theory, it is the overly aggression of the isis themselves that could cost them their followers on the basis that even convinced sympathizers can lose interest on the basis of ‘i support the idea but these measures are too much for me to be worth it’ (true, one asks oneself where this moral limit might be in an isis case, but just dare to follow the argument for the sake of thinking the option through).

in an iraqi federal government perspective, the air force argument is also sensible, looking at how unsuccessful the iraqi armed forces have acted on the ground for the most part. with the force being high up in the air at least the chances for a running away of the iraqi soldiers is limited; plus a first success in retaking certain areas would also help bolster the rather thin level of confidence in the iraqi armed forces.

from a kurdish perspective, however, and following the information i was able to attain on the ground, the air force focused policy of the federal government is nothing shy of potential concern for the krg. with the kurdish peshmerga being strong on the ground and historically well equipped to fight irregular forces just like the isis, their weakness lies in the air. and the problem is not so much their ‘collective survival’ per se – there is always the mountains to retreat to and survive – but it is the fact that their gaining of more and more liberties within what is now recognized the autonomous region of the kurdish regional government (krg), their cities and current status of economic development and social liberties are vulnerable to air borne attacks. with the general suspicion against the federal government and their reactions to the kurdish ‘neutrality’ in the current isis case (even in case of a changing away from maliki’s government per se), the stacking up on air force options comes as an issue of concern. the upside is that, right now, it seens unrealistic that it is in either the isis’s or the federal government’s interest to open up a second front; and since the isis does not seem like a problem that is resolvable in a short term (even barack obama just mentioned that it is a medium- to long term problem) there might just be some time for the kurdish interests (and air defence) to develop.

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