As the Obama administration continues to tout the success of its airstrike campaign against ISIS, intelligence officials contend that the strength of the group has actually been growing. Failure to attack ISIS training camps in order to avoid possible civilian casualties has allowed the group to more than offset its losses on the battlefield with new recruits, posing a tricky problem for defense planners.
The camps are spread throughout Iraq and Syria and have had such success that ISIS leadership is considering opening more camps in Libya and Yemen. They’re also actively expanding in Europe, as we profiled here. Not only do these facilities allow for fresh reinforcements for the group, but also open the possibility of fighters returning to their home countries to initiate attacks there.
The main targets of the airstrikes to date have been conventional in nature: tanks, vehicles, and weapons factories. A recent offensive in August was able to eliminate ISIS’s second in command, Fadhil Ahmad al-Hayali, and the fight has extended beyond the air campaign, with efforts to disrupt the group’s financial resources as well.
When questioned about the failure to bomb the camps, Pentagon spokesman Major Roger Cabiness declined to offer new information.
Pursuing the air campaign has allowed Obama to tow a line between engagement and not initiating another open-ended conflict. As a means of justifying its ISIS strategy, recent reports have stated that senior officials pressured intelligence analysts to alter their estimates of the strength of ISIS, portraying it as weaker than evidence has shown, which has led to an embarrassing full investigation of U.S. Central Command.
A U.S. Central Command report also showed that no attacks against training camps have been made since last year, in contradiction of administration claims.
Brigadier General Thomas Weidley, who is in charge of the operation, confirmed the conventional nature of the offensive, “When [ISIS] terrorists expose themselves and their equipment, we will strike them.”
The Obama administration has long desired to distance itself from the unpopular Middle East conflicts started by the prior administration. Engaging in an air campaign has also allowed administration officials to make the claim that no “boots on the ground” have been put in place. Yet fresh questions swirl about just how effective, if at all, this policy is.
It also shows the lengths to which Obama, in his twilight as President, will go to in order to secure his much-touted legacy. Obama wishes to be known as a troop withdrawer not a deployer. Yet by effectively punting and leaving the ISIS problem to the next administration, Obama appears to be putting ego ahead of the needs of America.