The war with ISIS is expected to last years, according to US officials, but the news isn’t all about beheadings, executions, and terror on the part of ISIS. The U.S. led international coalition has gained ground.
It is believed that more than 6,000 ISIS fighters have been killed so far. This number is not exact, and has been estimated based on pilot reports and other intelligence received both before and after airstrikes.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel doesn’t want progress to be solely based on numbers, stating, “It’s a measure but I don’t think it’s the measure.”
Secretary of State Kerry told reporters in London that the airstrikes have “halted ISIS’s momentum and reclaimed more than 700 square kilometers from ISIS in Iraq.” Focus is now aimed at stopping a key supply line into Mosul.
According to a CNN report in November, ISIS started showing signs of weakness with the beheading of Peter Kassig. He formerly served in the US military and then accepted his calling as a relief worker in Syria where he was captured by ISIS in October of 2013.
While in captivity, Kassig converted to Islam taking the name Abdul-Rahman. According to previous ultimatums made by ISIS, the fact that Kassig gave himself over to the Islamic religion should have made him exempt to the danger of execution in any form.
As reported by Fawaz A. Gerges from CNN, “Killing a convert to Islam is an extremely serious violation of the well-established consensus in the Islamic community on the sacredness of life for converts to the religion.”
Despite numerous pleas made by both moderate and radical Islamic clerics for ISIS to spare Kassig’s life, he was beheaded in a reported “act of desperation by this terrorist organization that has found itself on the run.”
ISIS has shown its true colors in this one act, revealing “how little regard the so-called “Islamic State” has for Islamic values.” Beheading Western hostages is one of few ways ISIS has in its pocket to retaliate against the American-led airstrikes – airstrikes that have started to show significant progress.
More recently, while ISIS still controls approximately 50,000 square kilometers of Iraq and nearly 30% of Syrian territory, smaller battles are making large strides. The Syrian border town of Kobani has been reclaimed by Kurdish fighters after more than 100 days of battle.
Airstrikes continue to take its toll on the infrastructure and field commanders of ISIS. It is hoped that ISIS’ losses in Kobani will deter the former attraction of foreign fighters. In addition, it has been reported that there have already been many ISIS deserters, with dozens of them executed.
Analysts believe that “a stream of disillusioned foreigners” will try to escape ISIS territory in the coming months.
As they attempt to regroup, ISIS relies on such tactics as using roadside bombs because they cannot move in force due to the threat of airstrikes. Thus, it has become increasingly difficult for ISIS to maintain its supply lines in the region.
Iraqi commanders report that the province of Diyala is back in government hands. Regaining Mosul, a city of 1.5 million people on the Tigris River, is now considered the “key prize.” Progress has been made by both Peshmerga and Iraqi forces in areas north, west, and south of Mosul, resulting in restricting ISIS’ movement and threatening their resupply route to Syria.
The Institute for the Study of War (ISW), which specifically studies military activity in Iraq and Syria, believes that ISIS plans to dig a defensive trench around Mosul. They also reported that executions have increased across Nineveh province, which ISW believes is a sign that “ISIS is feeling pressured by internal resistance in the province.”
Previous indications led to the possibility of a January offensive to retake Mosul. However, an attack on Mosul would require detailed coordination on several levels. In addition, it must be well informed by reliable intelligence, and have solid support from the air. To this end, analysts have reported that a “massive intelligence-gathering effort is already under way.”
Analysts also pointed out that most of Mosul’s remaining residents are primarily Sunni Arabs who would not receive help from Kurdish and Shia militia. Therefore, forces from the reconstituted Iraqi army would have to take the lead. Observers state that an attempt to retake Mosul would likely not happen until this summer.
The gain of Kobani is but one small battle won in this war against ISIS. Their desperation continues to show in the most recent of unthinkable killings. Tuesday, Feb 3, ISIS released a video of a Jordanian pilot doused with gasoline and burned to death while inside a large cage, with no escape possible. When the fire finished burning, the cage, with the murdered pilot inside, was buried by a bulldozer.
This Jordanian pilot was captured by ISIS in December 2014 and was supposed to have been traded in exchange for an Iraqi woman held in a Jordanian prison since 2005 for her role in a suicide bombing that killed 60 people in Amman.
In retaliation for the brutal actions by ISIS, the Jordanian King called for the deaths of two ISIS prisoners, one of them being the Iraqi woman who was supposed to be part of the exchange for the pilot. While some Jordanians were upset with their king for refusing to make the exchange, it is clear that King Abdullah was accurate in his choice.
ISIS never truly intended to make that prisoner exchange. Reports from NBC verified that, while the video of this burning was just released this week, the actual event occurred as much as a month ago.
I spoke with Sergeant Tim Lue about these ISIS related events over the past several months. He is a student here at Black Hawk College who has served in both the Marines and the Army, and is currently serving in the Army Reserves. He reflected to a time in 2007 when he worked security detail while Sadam Hussain was being tried.
Sergeant Lue remembered saying to a friend, “It’s only a matter of time before someone rises up.” His instincts were correct as we see the events that have been unfolding in Iraq and Syria since last June.
While ISIS fighters were busy making headlines, Sgt. Lue was deployed overseas and unaware of the beheadings and fighting in Iraq and Syria.
Needless to say, Lue was sickened when he learned what was occurring with ISIS. He commented that an ideal mission would result in being able to change the mind of the enemy without having to shoot a bullet. Clearly, with the extreme disregard ISIS has shown for human life – even when involving converts to Islam – reasoning seems far from the ISIS agenda.
Sergeant Lue has had the privilege of being deployed in successful missions. He knows the satisfaction that can come from helping other countries through effective military service.
Unfortunately this war with ISIS has not been, and will not be, an easy victory. However, the U.S. led Coalition against ISIS is making progress. That fact should not be overlooked because of the desperate and unthinkable actions by ISIS.