The success of ISIS in Iraq has finally received the attention of the Obama administration. But ISIS is also making major inroads in Syria, where Team Obama continues to ignore warnings of its progress.
Josh Rogin reports:
Three weeks ago, a group of leaders from the opposition Free Syrian Army warned U.S. officials that a strategic city along the Iraqi border was about to fall to ISIS. It was the latest in a long series of increasingly anxious cries for help. The rebels never heard back from the Americans.
Five days ago, the predictions came true. Free Syrian Army units in the city of Der al Zour handed over their territory to the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham, following weeks of desperate requests for help to international officials, including a direct appeal in a private meeting with U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power.
The Free Syrian Army didn’t ask the Obama administration for American “boots on the ground.” It had all the boots it needed. What it asked for was ammunition:
Two leaders of the Free Syrian Army in eastern Syria told The Daily Beast that the moderate rebels in the area greatly outnumbered the ISIS fighters returning from Iraq in stolen American-made vehicles. But the FSA battalion, weakened from months of being under siege, did not have enough ammunition to engage ISIS in the fight. They retreated south, giving up what they controlled of Der al Zour to ISIS without ISIS having to fire a shot.
So now the situation in Der al Zour is this:
[The] city center is divided into areas controlled by the al Qaeda-affiliated al Nusrah front, the Islamic Front, and the Syrian regime, which controls the airport and the high ground outside the city from which they shell the opposition areas relentlessly. ISIS and the regime are working together, and ISIS controls the suburbs without any fear of attacks from the Syrian Arab Army.
In short, every anti-American player has a piece of the action, and the only loser is the force that relied on America. It has been forced into a humiliating retreat, thanks to President Obama’s inaction.
A perfect metaphor for Obama’s foreign policy.
What’s next for ISIS? According to Mouaz Moustafa, executive director of the Syrian Emergency Task Force, an American NGO, ISIS is now preparing for a push on Aleppo, Syria’s second-largest city. There too, the Free Syrian Army is being squeezed by extremist and regime forces.
ISIS might also make another run at Azaz, a town near Aleppo on the Syria-Turkey border. Moustafa says that “Azaz is very strategic because it’s a major conduit for humanitarian aid and assistance to the Free Syrian Army.” It is also on the border of a NATO ally.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration has requested $500 million from Congress to train and equip non-jihadist, non-anti-American opposition groups. But in the best case scenario, this aid won’t be forthcoming until long after the anticipated ISIS push against Aleppo and Azaz.
That’s because Obama has ignored the rise of ISIS. As Sasha Ghosh-Siminoff, president of the American NGO People Demand Change, says, “the warning signs about the disintegration of the Iraq-Syria border have been clear for months.” Unfortunately, “it is clear that once again the White House is behind the curve in keeping pace with the realities on the ground in Syria.”
If Obama can’t keep pace with the realities on the U.S. border, I suppose it’s not surprising that he’s behind the curve when it comes to the Iraq-Syria border. In both cases, though, the real problem is ideological blinkers.