Despite recent setbacks–including the fall of Ramadi and Palmyra to Islamic State–President Obama remains confident that the US is not losing to Islamic State and the current strategy of providing close air support to Iraqi ground forces remains the best course of action. The most recent remarks were made in a wide ranging interview with The Atlantic that covered a bevy of issues including Israel-US relations, the Iran Nuclear negotiations and relations with the Gulf Arab States.
“No, I don’t think we’re losing. There’s no doubt there was a tactical setback, although Ramadi had been vulnerable for a very long time, primarily because these are not Iraqi security forces that we have trained or reinforced. … [T]he training of Iraqi security forces, the fortifications, the command-and-control systems are not happening fast enough in Anbar, in the Sunni parts of the country.” When I asked about the continuing role Iraq plays in American politics—I was making a reference to Jeb Bush’s recent Iraq-related conniptions—Obama pivoted from the question to make the argument that Republicans still don’t grasp key lessons about the Iraq invasion ordered 12 years ago by Jeb’s brother.
“I know that there are some in Republican quarters who have suggested that I’ve overlearned the mistake of Iraq, and that, in fact, just because the 2003 invasion did not go well doesn’t argue that we shouldn’t go back in,” he said. “And one lesson that I think is important to draw from what happened is that if the Iraqis themselves are not willing or capable to arrive at the political accommodations necessary to govern, if they are not willing to fight for the security of their country, we cannot do that for them.”
It remains difficult to feel optimistic that the momentum of the war is going, or can be swayed, in the direction of the US-led coalition. With the taking of Ramadi Islamic State once again captured a litany of abandoned arms and hardware from the fleeing Iraqi Army, leading one IS fighter to tweet: “This is how we rearm. The US gives to the Iraqi Army and they give to us”
The analysis of the situation in Syria and Iraq by The Long War Journal remains grim:
[The Atlantic][Long War Journal]
With the takeover of Palmyra, the Islamic State now controls half of Syria, according to Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Additionally, the group now possesses the “vast majority of the gas and oilfields in Syria, where only the regime-held gas field of al Sha’er in the countryside of Homs and YPG-held oilfields of Rmeilan in the countryside of al Hasakah are still out of its control.” The Islamic State uses resources extracted from the fields to fund its operations.
The Islamic State is flush with success after taking control of Palmyra. On May 17, the jihadist group stormed Ramadi, the provincial capital of Anbar, Iraq, and drove Iraqi forces from the city. Additionally, the Islamic State took control of the Libyan city of Sirte today.