From a New York Times piece about today’s bombing campaign against ISIS targets in eastern Syria:
In Iraq, American advisers need to train the 26 Iraqi brigades that the Pentagon says are still intact and loyal to the government and help the Iraqis establish new national guard units, which would have the primary responsibility for defending Sunni-dominated provinces and would be recruited largely from Iraqi tribes.
A senior State Department official said that the new Iraqi government had a plan to establish the national guard units but acknowledged that doing so would not be easy. “It is not going to be soon,” said the official, who could not be identified under the agency’s protocol for briefing reporters.
If ground troops are the only way to destroy ISIS—and they are—it’s easy to see why Pentagon officials are talking about this campaign taking “years.” Assuming it can be done at all, it will take at least that long to recruit and train the national guard units that are critical to success. That’s a long war.
I admit that my blogging today about the ISIS campaign has been a little bit cavalier. This is because it’s hard to take any of the operational details very seriously. We’re getting a bit of pro forma support from some Arab countries, and while this is useful from a PR standpoint it’s really not meaningful from a military standpoint. We’re pretty much alone out there. And details aside, this means that we’re going to spend years on an aerial campaign in Iraq and Syria while we desperately try once again to figure out how to succeed at a training mission that we’ve already failed at in both Afghanistan and Iraq. And we’re going to do it all by ourselves. I’d sure like to know what we’re going to be doing differently this time around that makes us think we finally have it right.