Because of the limited training and advising role that the U.S. is conducting in its strategy to degrade and destroy ISIS, experts say that the U.S. plan is failing.
After withdrawing troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama has maintained that the U.S will not be conducting another ground war in the Middle East. The role of the U.S. will be limited to training local troops and conducting air strikes. The president has also stated that the U.S. will not become further involved in Syria other than trying to defeat ISIS. However, this strategy is not working.
On Thursday, the Pentagon announced that it has failed to meet its goal of training and equipping over 5,000 soldiers in Syria. These fighters were to be used as America’s ground force against ISIS. According to U.S. News and World Report, only 1500 soldiers have completed the U.S. vetting process, 200 have begun training, and none have graduated.
Another complication is that the conflict in Syria has two major fronts: the civil war against Bashar Assad and ISIS. The U.S. needs to find a way to deal with the civil war in Syria, so the rebel fighters will be able to organize against the Islamic State.
Jennifer Cafarella, a Syria expert at the Institute for the Study of War believes there is a “fundamental flaw in the plan.” She added, “It illustrates a difficulty in attempting to address the ISIS issue in Syria as a contained issue, and one that can be dealt with without dealing with the full Syrian civil war itself.”
Many rebels do not want to abandon defending their own villages from ISIS. Many have even dropped out of U.S. training, so they can return to their homes and defend them. This threat from ISIS severely limits the Syrian opposition’s ability to fight Assad.
Another problem with Obama’s plan is its inability to counter propaganda from the Islamic State. The U.S. has not been able to overcome the ISIS message that it has successfully established a caliphate.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter told Congress the U.S. cannot respond to the Islamic State’s effective usage of social media and video. Carter said, “We don’t have particular ways of getting on social media and propagandizing the way that ISIS does.”
Sajjan Gohel, a terrorism expert at the Asia Pacific Foundation believes that Obama’s strategy is sound in theory, but is failing in practice. “The problem is it’s not just about training and equipping people to fight. They need to understand why they’re doing it.”
“Individuals in Iraq and Syria struggle for the motivation and the purpose, and there are question marks about their long-term commitment,” said Gohel. “If you look at the other side, groups like ISIS have no problem with that.”