Lamer than expected

Under the byline of Nour Malas, Dion Nissenbaum, and Maria Abi-Habib, the Wall Street Journal assesses the progress of the Obama administration’s air campaign against ISIS so far in the story in the story that appears online under the headline “U.S.-led airstrikes disrupt Islamic state, but extremists hold territory” (behind the Journal’s paywall but accessible via Google). In the newspaper the headline reads “Islamic State proves resilient.”

The air campaign so far demonstrates the well-known limits of airpower. The “disruption” to which the online headline refers turns out to be a meaningless shift in ISIS practices. The Journal reports:

Islamic State appears to have largely withstood the airstrikes so far and with scant pressure on the ground in Iraq and Syria, the militants have given up little of the territory they captured before the campaign began.

“The strikes are useless so far,” said Mohammad Hassan, an activist in eastern Syria battling the regime of Bashar al-Assad. “Most of the training camps and the bases were empty when the coalition hit them.”

Islamic State fighters have reacted swiftly to the threat of airstrikes over the past weeks, moving out of captured military bases and government buildings in Syria, relocating weapons and hostages, and abandoning training camps, according to residents and rebels in the areas the militants control. In Syria and Iraq, they took down many of their trademark black flags, and camouflaged armed pickup trucks. They also took cover among civilians.

They also have maintained much of their financing and recruiting capability and continued to crack down on local populations, anti-regime activists and rebels in Syria said. At the same time, they publicized a series of beheadings of Western hostages.

In addition to holding territory after they came under attack, they pressed on with an ambitious offensive on the Syrian city of Ayn al-Arab, also known as Kobani, close to the border with Turkey.

Those of us who find the air campaign a transparent effort to provide the illusion of significant action won’t be disabused of the notion by anything in the Journal article. Indeed, to outward appearances, the threat continues to grow.

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